On Sunday we celebrated World Communion Sunday with great joy and hope. Each year I am excited to share this service with not only our congregation, but the Light Global Mission Church Choir. The musical offerings they make each year are filled with the Spirit. I also love to hear the scripture being read in languages other than English. I only speak English and, as some will point out, I sometimes struggle to do that.
This Sunday, Atai Nyambi joked about how she could read anything and we wouldn’t know the difference. The fact of the matter is that she is right. She could have stood in the pulpit and read some form of gibberish and we would be none the wiser. The same could be true for our other readings and the songs the choir sang. Thankfully, we trust those who read in worship to honor that moment and stick to the Scriptures.
Still, there is something to be learned from the experience of not knowing what is being said. I purposely left the full reading out of the bulletin. First of all, I think that some folks forget that Jesus, his disciples and the early church didn’t communicate in English. The dominance of the English language has at times gentrified the cultural differences present in Scripture.
We can also be reminded that throughout the world there are people worshiping, studying and serving God in many ways with many dialects. I am thankful that today we have abandoned the colonial model of evangelism and have turned to cultural engagement that embraces the differences we experience. It makes me sad to think of past examples of Christian evangelism that tried to change people to be “English” in speech and practice.
Finally, I think it is important for us to remember that hearing and understanding Scripture in worship is only part of the equation. Each time I hear a Scripture passage read or a prayer offered in a language I don’t understand, I am reminded that God has a deeper way of communicating with us. In the midst of the confusion around earthly language, God gives us a common Spiritual language that transcends words. I believe we experience this when our readers read in languages we don’t understand or the choir offers music that has words we don’t understand. This is a moment for us to begin or rekindle our dependence on God’s Spirit for understanding.
Thankfully, we have this Spirit to illuminate our readings and experiences even when we think we understand the words. Every time we approach God in prayer, reading or song, we are dependent on God’s Spirit to open our hearts, minds and will to not only receive God’s message but to live into it.