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Trueman, “Tragic Worship”

Carl Trueman’s First Things article, “Tragic Worship,” is wonderful reminder of our need for addressing the tragic realities of life and death in our worship. Drawing from our understanding of tragedy in drama, Trueman critiques our preference for distraction.

This is what much of modern worship amounts to: distraction and diversion. Praise bands and songs of triumph seem designed in form and content to distract worshipers from life’s more difficult realities.

In contrast, historically Christian worship has faced squarely and regularly the reality of death and suffering. The result is not morose worship, but true edification as we see our deepest issues are addressed by the gospel.

Of all places, the Church should surely be the most realistic. The Church knows how far humanity has fallen, understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer. In the psalms of lament, the Church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but the next. In the great liturgies of the Church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow. Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection.

The psalms as the staple of Christian worship, with their elements of lament, confusion, and the intrusion of death into life, have been too often replaced not by songs that capture the same sensibilities as the many great hymns of the past did so well but by those that assert triumph over death while never really giving death its due. The tomb is certainly empty; but we are not sure why it would ever have been occupied in the first place.

Only the dead can be resurrected. As the second thief on the cross saw so clearly, Christ’s kingdom is entered through death, not by escape from it.

This is a very helpful essay we ought to consider as we think about how to lead the people of God in worship.

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