It’s Labor Day weekend. What does that mean in your setting, besides that there might be fewer in attendance on this day? Although, if you’re still online mostly, then the excuses for missing might be fewer this year. And how will you celebrate the work force with such high unemployment? Maybe by September, the employment situation will be better. But how much better? Who has been left behind in this pandemic year? What businesses have suffered in the unrest and the shifting of priorities? What provisions can your church community provide for those who are struggling financially? What word can you give for those whose livelihood has been affected? And how do we deal with the anger that still churns away underneath?
If there is an emotion that seems to resonate throughout the texts for this first week of our new series, it is anger. If there is an emotion that often will launch us into a wilderness experience, it is also anger. So, this seems to be where we need to begin. Let’s be clear, however, this isn’t a call for an experience of worship that stokes anger in the participants. This isn’t a rallying cry to tear down or rise up or strike out. No, this is an opportunity for us first to acknowledge that all of us get angry. And that if we don’t acknowledge that, then the wilderness becomes that much more difficult to navigate. This isn’t supposed to be a therapy session; however, but it can be the beginning of a healing process.
So, how might you deal with anger in worship this week? First of all, it might be worth recognizing that there are things worth getting angry about. The list of ongoing injustice in our world is certainly a call for some anger. We share in God’s anger for what is broken and abusive in our society and in our communities. Perhaps expressing our anger might enable our action in our communities. Let our prayers stir us to get angry at what angers God.
An analysis of what makes us angry, however, might reveal how self-focused we are, rather than other focused. We might need a time of confession that our angers are often directed at our personal slights, or our inconveniences rather than on the injustices of a larger community. We might need some time in worship for humbling and offering up our sense of entitlement or desire for personal comforts.
In a previous time, we could write down the things that make us angry and burn them. But perhaps that doesn’t fit our new requirements. But some way of acknowledging and then forgiving so that they disappear would be a powerful statement about the grace of God, strong enough to even forgive our angers. Consider having a prayer station for lighting candles, a time of silence with proper gestures of claiming and releasing enacted by the whole community of faith, online and in-person both.
What shall we sing? Are there songs of anger? Well, maybe, but songs should be songs of peace—particularly peace that comes from the Spirit of abundance, the Spirit of healing and unity and service. Remember, we are acknowledging anger, not celebrating it. Although our Psalm text calls to mind a people with “high praises in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands,” we are still the people who long for a time when swords are beaten into plowshares. The weapon that is our anger needs to be turned into a tool for service and transformation, not one that divides and damages. Praying and singing for peace is the way we will come through the wilderness.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.