My grandmother was a great cook. Some of my fondest memories from childhood involve waking up before the sun in a small house in rural Kentucky to the sounds and smells of my grandmother's breakfast ritual. Bacon and eggs, fried "taters" and fresh biscuits (the best!) were the standard fare every morning when I stayed over at her house. And all of it was made from scratch, including the various fruit jellies canned in small glass jars with lids that showed their repeated years of use.
Many years after she had already reached hero-status in my mind, I recall sitting around her kitchen table with family for another simple but memorable breakfast. My uncle, having experienced this same breakfast innumerable times before, finally asked a question few of us had ever asked in the open before: "What's the secret to making this jelly?". What happened next shocked us - a cabinet was opened, a small box was removed and placed nonchalantly in the middle of the table. "The recipe is right here on the back of the box." I'll never forget the look of shock on my Uncle's face. It turns out, grandmother had always made her jelly the same way, by simply following the instructions on the Gel-Ez box.
For me, this past Sunday was an extra-ordinary time of reflection and celebration of Christ's death and resurrection. I found our times of singing together to be particularly extraordinary. Others in our church have relayed a similar sentiment - that the congregation seemed more engaged than normal in our singing. Having a front row seat in both services, I must whole-heartedly agree. Something was different. And it begs the question, "Why this Sunday more than any other? What's the secret?" I think there might be more than one contributing factor. Here are some theories:
We sing better when we're familiar with the songs. Many of the songs we sing on Good Friday and Easter have been sung in the church for many, many years. They are part of our annual liturgy, much the same as the Christmas carols we sing every year. Other are sung throughout the year, which only adds to our ability to sing them confidently on this special occasion.
If familiarity were not enough, a good dose of nostalgia goes a long way when we sing these same songs about the cross and the risen Christ every Spring. Many of us can remember with fondness Easter services of years gone past, complete with all the senses - the smell of lilies and Easter lunch, the budding trees, our family and friends dressed up particularly nice, and of course, the sounds of those familiar Easter tunes.
Let's not underestimate the power of preparedness. When it comes to Easter, most of us have been looking forward to this day with great anticipation. We're up a little earlier in the morning to hunt eggs or prepare a grand breakfast. We primp a little extra, and arrive to church early enough to guarantee enough seats for our family. And unlike most Sunday mornings, we're probably a tad more awake and ready to participate in the service. After all, we know the songs and we love this day!
Christmas, Good Friday and Easter are among my favorite days of the year, and for this reason: they are meaningful. For the redeemed, remembrance of Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection are a taste too sweet to enjoy in bits and pieces throughout the year. It's good for us to celebrate these things with special songs, special dress, special meals and special traditions. They are extra special occasions, and we likewise give due attention to these meaningful occasions. Especially in our singing.
So is that the secret recipe? Are familiarity, nostalgia, readiness and meaningfulness in extra supply on Good Friday and Easter, or Christmas for that matter? I would say yes. But I would also say that, just like grandmother's incomparable jelly, the real magic isn't in the ingredients at all.
You see, when my family discovered the secret to the recipe, it didn't stop us from enjoying it just the same. It did not become less familiar to our taste-buds. My grandmother did not lose her reputation among us, nor were diminished the memories of breakfast ecstasies of years past. And that's because the secret wasn't all that important. We already loved the jelly, and we already loved grandmother.
Without a doubt, holiday services are some of the best of the year. As Music Pastor, I love knowing that we can pull out all the stops musically because the church comes energized to sing. But I also know that the real secret has very little to do with what I and the musicians do from the platform, and so much more to do with the people of God - a people who are engaged and ready to lift their voices in exuberant praise to their Creator and Savior.
"Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!" (Psalm 95:1-2)
We have every same reason to be thankful, joyful and prepared to sing God's praise, whether it's Easter Sunday or the Sunday after. There's really no special recipe to this - simply the opportunity to give ourselves wholeheartedly to His praise in every season, whenever we gather. I can only imagine the blessings God has in store for His people when they sing like this every Sunday!
If you were likewise encouraged and lifted to extra-ordinary praise this past weekend through our times of singing the gospel together, put that lightning in a bottle and bring it with you this coming Sunday. Come ready. Come thankful. Come joyful in what God through Christ as done on your behalf. Come knowing that our God who exults over us with singing (Zeph. 3:17) delights in the same. Come knowing that your singing encourages, teaches and admonishes your fellow brothers and sisters (Heb. 10:25, Col. 3:16). Come knowing that the secret to the singing is in the hearts of the people and not in the music, not in the season, and not in the ingredients.