A friend posted on facebook this week a video of a young man singing his heart out on an Interstate in southern California. His windows and sun roof or wide open, and he chimes happily along with a song spilling loud from his car. “Fill me up, Buttercup,” he shouts for all to hear, bobbing and weaving to the beat. Traffic is thick, so drivers and passengers to the right and left take notice. He invites them to sing with him. Many do.
It’s brilliant. It’s a little outbreak of the kingdom of God: infectious joy invading a world of grinding routine, gruelling tedium. One man singing subverts a thousand stone-faced commuters, and calls them back to wonder and thankfulness.
I always loved the 60s musical GodSpell, despite its theological shortcomings. Jesus shows up in San Francisco during the height of the Flower Power era. He is the proto-hippy, a bell-bottomed, peace-sign wielding, afro-sporting vagabond grooving to the scene. All that is hokey and oddball. The movie’s genius, though, is this: Jesus comes singing, and keeps singing. And those who follow him hear the song – in the midst of dance recitals, board meetings, traffic jams, domestic arguments – and drop everything to join him in it.
Three biblical texts converge around this theme – well, more than three, but these three I find especially compelling. The first is a question God asks woebegone, sore-afflicted Job:
Were you there… when the morning stars sang together, and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38:7).
The second is the picture of God that the Prophet Zephaniah gives to frightened, disheartened people:
Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing (Zeph. 3:16-17).
And the third is the story of Paul and Silas in the book Acts, two men bleeding from a scourging, locked and manacled in the inner cell of a dank prison because of an act of compassion they committed in the city of Philippi:
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25).
I bet they were, those other prisoners. Who does this? Songs in the night. Songs in the face of brutal suffering. Songs breaking out in the midst of conditions that invite anything but singing – sores from head to foot, threats from powerful enemies, violence from an oppressive system. Traffic on a grid-locked highway. They don’t complain. They don’t curse. They don’t rail against the system.
GodSpell, for all it got wrong, got this right: into this mess and pain, the great Troubadour comes singing, singing, singing, and the kingdom opens to all who hear and join him.