by Stephen Kriss
I’ve had the bilingual version of Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei” as an ear worm since last Friday’s Conference Assembly. A small ensemble from Centro de Alabanza led the song as a response to Nate Stucky’s sermon on Friday night, moving smoothly from English to Spanish and back again. The Alleluia’s were markedly the same words in all three of the languages posted on the screen up front (English, Spanish and Indonesian). The four musicians later told me that they were shaking as they went up front to lead. This was a large group to lead, close to 200 people. Shifting back and forth between English and Spanish while you’re nervous is especially challenging.
But something seemed to happen to us as we sang. I heard Indonesians behind me move readily into Spanish; in other parts of the auditorium at Dock Mennonite Academy EC-8 campus, Tanzanians did the same thing. We were moved to stand together without an invitation to do so. Some of us raised hands. There were some tears. There was some speaking in tongues (and I can verify that the languages were not of our assortment of languages that we normally speak outside of English).
For years, we’ve struggled in conference assembly over worship styles and songs and languages. We’ve tried hard to incorporate all of our worshipping languages and song preferences. Some of us fold our hands when hymns aren’t sung. Others of us feel lost when we’re singing in a language other than our native tongue. Some of us can’t figure out how to sing the soprano line when we try to break into four parts. Sometimes we feel the Spirit and sometimes we don’t while others have.
This time I felt the Spirit somehow pull us into words meant to mimic those of the eternal city of God in their Agnus Dei, based on a passage from the Book of Revelation. St. John of the Cross called this something that I sensed to be on the brink of something, “I know not what.” In the seemingly smooth transitions between English and Spanish led by a young group of worship leaders on vocals, keyboard, guitar and drums — who were there in fear and trembling –something quite beautiful emerged. Maybe that was the key to open us up together; their humility might have made it all possible, inviting others to worship along with them with a sense of nervousness and awe.
After the worship, around ice cream, I noticed this crazy mix of people that we are: refugees, migrants, immigrants, citizens; millionaires and those only a payday away from living on the street again; from the mountains, suburbs, small towns, Allentown, Philadelphia, metro DC and NYC. While serving regular, sugar free and lactose free ice cream, I noticed who we are. How beautiful it is, when on one night even 5% of our community of approximately 7000 joins together from across our geographies to gather, sing, listen, pray, and re-group in our shared identity … to feel even a glimpse of Pentecost that binds us within and beyond language, through a group of us who lead with honest fear and trembling.
I’ve been grateful this week to have this song in my head as a reminder beyond the election’s possibilities and fears, that calls me to identify where real citizenship and purpose abides — in the reign of God, among the communion of the saints, by the power of the Spirit who unites us across our differences and languages. This is who we are called to be, both in the here and now and into all eternity. Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. Santo, Santo. El Senor es Poderoso. Kudus,Kudus Engkaulah tuhan berkuasa.