4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
It’s a psalm sung at one of the great national festivals when the air is filled with excitement, like walking up the hill to the stadium for the big game. The drum corps is rapping out dynamic rhythms. Hawkers are selling food and trinkets. People are meeting friends with glad cries. Strangers are calling out to strangers with shouts and chants united by their common allegiance. You can hear the band playing already in the stadium. Just the crowd itself fills you with joy and energy. Everything seems good. Worries are forgotten, at least for a moment. You sing the fight song as you climb the stairs into the stadium.
Church is a lot more fun when people come expecting great things. But we aren’t coming like crowds to a game. We are coming like workers arriving home from the fields at the end of a long day. We come with tardy children and cranky adults waiting for them in the car. We come weary from the week or bleary from the party the night before. We come with walkers when we would rather walk. We come with sorrows we would rather leave behind. We come with regrets from the week – or regrets from that very morning. We come disillusioned or lonely or worried about medical bills or grown children into whom we can talk no sense.
As teenagers we criticized the church because people returned from Holy Communion with such somber faces. This was a moment of great joy, this was a taste of the eternal banquet, this was the declaration that all our sins had been forgiven. They should come back “walking and leaping and praising God,” we thought. We didn’t yet understand that thankfulness and praise could be complicated, could look more like tears than laughter, more like the grateful recipients of a soup line than the members of a marching band. Priceless gifts don’t inspire joy as much as deep humility and gratefulness, especially the bread of life given to the weary.
Still, this is a foretaste of the feast to come. We hear the promise of boundless mercy. We see the image of suffering and know that the tomb is empty. We are aware of the presence of fellow pilgrims on this journey. We may not be headed into a crowded arena but we should, nevertheless, enter these gates with thanksgiving, and these courts with praise.