Yes, this will require some explanation.
As I write this, my wife and I are on a train from Nuremberg to Munich. It’s the regularly scheduled train between those two cities. But today it’s the Beer Train.
It’s Oktoberfest – which, strangely enough, takes place mostly in September – and celebrants from all over Bavaria are heading to Munich where the party is in full swing.
We’re on this train, not because we’re planning to indulge in the festivities, but because our rental car broke down in Germany and we have had to rent another car from a different company.
Cars are hard to find in Germany at the last minute for a drive through the developing countries of Slovenia and Croatia, with a final drop-off in Italy. But after days of phone calls and internet searches, Shelley somehow found us a car. (She’s the brains of this outfit. I’m just the pretty face).
But there’s a catch. The car is in Munich. We are not.
So we’re fighting the crowds as we haul our luggage from train station to train station making our way from Schweinfurt to Nuremberg to Munich – more than three hours worth of train rides over all.
That’s why I was in a lousy mood a couple hours ago. But something surprising is happening.
The Value of Contagious Joy
The people on the train to Nuremberg were like people on most trains. Bored. napping, reading a newspaper. But above all, quietly keeping to themselves.
This train is very different. It’s fun and it’s noisy. No, they’re not drunk. Yet. But the anticipation of the time they plan to have in Munich has put them in a great mood. Friends are chatting. Strangers are greeting each other. The entire train is buzzing with conversation and laughter.
I don’t understand the language and I won’t be participating in the anticipated revelry, but their current joy is lifting my spirits a little.
Before you brand me a heretic, a bad example or hopelessly naive, let me state that I am fully aware that most of the fun they anticipate having in the next few days will not end as joyously as it is starting. I’ve never understood what people find appealing about drunkenness. It seems a sad waste to me.
But right now these people are having fun. (Mostly) sober fun.
And because I am sitting among them as they revel in the joy of friendships, both old and new, as well as the giddy expectation of what they hope will be a good time, I feel better too.
Adding to that is the fact that many of the men are wearing traditional lederhosen and many women are wearing those German bar maid dresses (I don’t know what else to call them) like in the photo I took at the Munich train station that’s at the start of this post. The traditional garb adds to the feeling that we’re in the middle of a time-honored cultural experience, not just the warm-up to debauchery.
What Jesus Did – And the Church Should Do
As I sit here, two thoughts have hit me square between the eyes:
1. Jesus spent a lot of time with people like this. They didn’t stay the same after spending time with Jesus – no one ever does. They became even more joyous. But this is the kind of raw material Jesus always likes to start with.
2. More church services should feel something like this.
- Old friends chatting amiably
- Strangers greeting each other with sincere joy
- A giddy expectation of a great experience to come
- Embracing old traditions while celebrating new ones
Many churches are already like that, of course. I believe the church I pastor is one of them.
But can you imagine how people would be drawn to the gospel of Jesus if every church felt like this?
People don’t need to understand the language to appreciate the joy. They don’t need to have the same anticipation of the experience as we do. They don’t even need to know each other. Yet.
They just need to be among us as the church experiences that kind of joy. And they need to hear that they’re welcome to join in when they’re ready.
Joy is contagious.
But joy isn’t automatic. Even in the church. (Especially in the church?)
Jesus’ joy, without the hangovers and regret that many on this train will soon experience, should be cultivated, anticipated and celebrated at least as much as the people on this train are celebrating right now.
So what do you think? Is your church doing something to “up” the joy factor?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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(Munich Train Station photo from Karl Vaters)