Clap your hands, O faithful people! Shout to God a song of praise! From the dust of conquered nations, God a realm of grace shall raise. To God’s name forever faithful, may we prosper all our days. Clap your hands, O faithful people! Shout to God a song of praise!
With a shout, and blast of trumpet, God shall mount a throne on high; let our praise, as finest incense, rise to meet God in the sky. Fill the world with glad rejoicing, heav’n shall sing, the earth reply. Clap your hands, O faithful people! Shout to God a song of praise!
Let your hearts be filled with gladness, as the Lord your life shall bless; live as heirs of God’s own justice, wear the cloak of righteousness. God will grant us earth’s dominion, all things good, and nothing less. Clap your hands, O faithful people! Shout to God a song of praise!
I look forward to getting back to the theatre and the concert hall. Glad though I am to have had access to online and recorded performances, and good though many are, they very often lack an immediacy and an energy. Similarly, pre-lockdown, it was great to be able to go to one’s local cinema and ‘attend’ performances remotely of operas and ballets and plays from the great houses of the world.
In truth, often I find the curtain call and the applause one of the more energetic and energising elements of the evening. Perhaps it is the corporate nature of the action that does it. We obey the Sunday School injunction, “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”. It is a declaration of our approval and assent (as here to God’s kingship of all). It is a physical action through which our feelings break free. In Denmark the applause moves from random clapping into a settled rhythmic applause as a sign that we are all in this appreciation together. That’s why it feels good, not only for the performers, but to us too.
In church, however, I am not quite so liberated. Raised in the days of respectable restraint in most things, I remember well the times when (perhaps particularly a child’s) input into a service – a poem, a reading, a song … – led to hesitation. Applaud or not? Was it right to bring the habits of the musical hall into a place of worship? Many feel more at ease with our faces ‘properly’ in the hymn book, keeping our worship cerebral.
But perhaps that’s why I leave church with exuberance more rarely than I do the theatre or concert hall. Have we sucked out a lot of the elements otherwise released in clapping out of our worship? I confess that I am not by disposition (or probably training) that comfortable with what we often disparagingly called ‘happy-clappy’ worship.
We each find different styles of worship appropriate and helpful, but somehow our praise has to be a joyous, affirmative, shared whole-person experience.
Before you, God of all the earth, may we open our hearts in praise and thanksgiving, adoration and commitment, in the release of all that we have and are. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Jack Dyce, Emeritus Professor of Nordic Theology, Scottish United Reformed & Congregational College, and a member of Port Glasgow URC