Lessons from ‘Lessons and Carols’

Last week was Christmas ‘lessons and Carols’ service at the Saint John the Divine Episcopal Church at Houston, my new home, where is snows one day and is sunny the next. I was not excited at the prospect of attending a service which did not have the holy Eucharist, but Sunday morning is a time to be with God and God’s people so I was at the service. Little did I know how so captivating the lessons and carols can be. I attended both the morning service and the evening service of lessons and carols at SJD and loved worshiping God in both.

The way the sequence of songs and lessons were chronologically organized tracing human history right from the fall through the ‘4000 thousand years of winter’ to the redemption by Incarnation, to the day when the lions and lambs would lie beside each other was beautiful. But what was even more appealing was the way one form of worship alternates with another and keeps our souls and minds enthralled the whole time. The Word of God that precedes each song awakens the mind to be engrossed in the beauty and the pertinence of the Truth that exudes from Him. The age old songs which shall be sung for ages to come, true to their timelessness, and sung by a choir that feels and exudes its granduer, connect deeply any mystically with the soul. The whole experience creates a transcended sense of the Truth in our minds and hearts.

The age old carol songs carry with them a richness depth from of the age old Christian saints, something the musical creations of contemporary Christian TV celebrities seldom match up to.

There is something so awe inspiring about the lessons, about one person standing up before a rapt audience and reading aloud and clear the Word of God in it pure and glorious form, unadulterated by any human being’s expositions and interpreted by the great Interpreter in the hearts and the minds of ‘those who have ears’. The Word of God does not need human exposition, the Word of God is the ever- living Word of God. The Word enters our beings and has His ‘life’ there, thereby creating in us new life. This is experience of God is unadulterated transcended purity.

Some contemporary Christians don’t seem to be able to appreciate such unadulterated purity of experiencing God through lessons and carols, they assume that lessons and carols are a thing of the past. It is a pity that the modern man’s jaded senses demand a lot of aberrations in the form of jokes and rhetoric from the preacher to make the Word come ‘alive’ in them. But with Lessons and Carols there is no such aberration, either one gets the pure Word of God or one gets nothing. After all it is better to have nothing than to think one has got something of a ‘feeling’ only to realize at a latter stage that what one thought one had ‘got’ was just an illusion which was forcefully inculcated by the sheer will power when one comes to the Lord expecting to receive some ‘feeling’ than to give ‘ear’ to Him.

Apart form the beauty of the Word of God that was so apparent in the lessons and carols, the thing that struck me most in the service was the song ‘What child is this…’ It is a song that is loved by many cChristians.

‘…Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.’

God moved out of His ‘comfort zone’ in heaven, was willing to be born as a helpless baby and had to be dependent on others. It is a deep irony of how God places Himself at a position where He is dependent for His survival on His own creation. It spoke volumes to me because I was sitting in the Church disgruntled that God had brought me out of my ‘comfort zone’ in India where ‘freedom’ was the essence of my being, to a new land where the essence of my being had become anxiety and dependence. The loss of comfort and freedom was so disturbing and depressing to me, but there at the Lessons and Carols, in comparison to the loss that God had to suffer, mine feebled out.

I thank God for the wonderful experience with the lessons and carols at SJD. When I was walking out of the evening service, one gentleman shook hands with me and told me, “This is the neatest service I have ever been to”. I couldn’t agree more. 🙂

The 4 year old Teacher

Last weekend was the thanks giving weekend I had looked forward to so much. I spent my time with a much loved family at Dallas. The most important person in that family of three is the 4 year old who lovingly always calls me as her friend.

She wanted me to go ice skating with her. I told her that I did not know ice skating. Spat came her reply “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you. I’m a good teacher”. And a good teacher she was, I never got to learn ice skating from her. But I learnt so much about the gift of fellowship.

I love to fellowship with people in ‘deep’ relationships. And my idea of ‘depth’ was often only about having some intellectually stimulating conversations. My personality being so I never made an attempt to voluntarily relate much with little children. When we go out as family and meet little children, I leave the aspect of entertaining little children to my sister and I would try to get engrossed in some ‘deep’ conversation with adults. With this family too the parents were great intellectual companions. I loved their fellowship.

But with the kid I was in the dark. I wanted to relate with her but I really did not know how I could do that. Unlike my sister I lacked the skill of ‘sweet talking’ to kids. Even before I went there, I knew where I would have trouble. So I thought the best I could do would be to get many gifts for her hoping to offer something be worthy of her friendship. But she looked at my gifts and said, “Oh! That looks scary”. I was devastated, I did not have any other cards up my sleeve. I tried to make a ‘rational’ case to there that there was nothing to be scared about, but I did not get any where. The gift had a picture in it which scared her.

I was like a knight who was riding in his gallant horse with shining armour only to realize that what awaited him was not the battle but a banquet. I was in a strange land. I did not know what to do, my reason had failed me. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to go to the level of a four year old and ‘sweet talk’ to her and make her enjoy my company. I was afraid I was going to bore the kid out.

It was here the four year old became my teacher. I was floored, and she took the lead. She came and told me what ‘we’ had to do. “Will you play this with me?”, “Will you come here with me?”, “Will you chase me around?”, “Will you sit with me in the car?”, “Shall we do this?”, “Shall we do that?”…

Then I realized that what she needed was not an intelligent person to talk to or a person that would give her many gifts or a person who could playfully engager her or make her feel great, she just needed ‘fellowship’ – plain and simple fellowship that has no overtones of any kind whatsoever. What I mean by this ‘plain and simple fellowship’ is this that I don’t have to have anything special with me, I don’t have to be great, I don’t have to have any impressive skills of ‘sweet talking’. In other words, I did not need to have anything which would make me worthy to have fellowship. I just had to have time for her.

So often adult fellowships are defined worthiness of individuals. If a person is not worthy in some quality that is preferred then there would be no fellowship. But that is not the case with kids. Knowing this, it is not surprising at all that God said that the kingdom of heaven belonged to such little children.

The lesson that I learnt from this is that I should be willing to fellowship with all people whether or not I think I am qualified to fellowship with them or they are qualified to fellowship with me. Man’s ability for fellowship with fellow man is a gift of God and man should put that ‘talent’ to good use by extending fellowship to those whose lives would be so enriched by our fellowship. If we do not use that ‘talent’ we would end up burying it and would consequently incur God’s wrath. This experience made me quite introspective and I got to wonder if, in my life, I had displease God by not extending my fellowship to people in whose company my intellect was not titillated enough.

The 4 year old never knew of how much I was struggling with myself to make myself worthy of her companionship. All she knew was that I was her friend and I was there to give her fellowship whenever she wanted. To her it was all about plain and simple fellowship bound by love. She recited a letter to me in which she said, “Emmanuel, we love you. You must come here again and we can skate and play again.”

Plain and simple fellowship is one of the most beautiful expressions of life. To live life in all its fullness one has to experience this overwhelming beauty of plain and simple fellowship.