I had the privilege of worshipping with my parents and other brothers and sisters in Christ at the Deep River Church of Christ in High Point, NC last week. While I love preaching it was nice to sit and just be present for worship— having zero responsibilities and expectations. Well, zero is not quite right, Stephen was sitting next to me! Things were actually going great in worship with Stephen until the first prayer. It was at the first prayer that Stephen decided to start laughing. He didn’t giggle—he belly laughed. To his credit he did try to contain it as I sat next to him and “shushed” him. But in the middle of the quiet auditorium everyone could hear Stephen just laughing. He was a little noisy during communion and again for the sermon— though he seemed to sit quietly during the singing!?!?
I met one of the ministers before worship and explained that Stephen might be loud, and he didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. Throughout worship I also received reaffirming smiles from the Christians around me. An elderly lady in front of me actually turned around when Stephen was laughing during the prayer and I said sorry between “shushes” and she just smiled and waved like it wasn’t a problem. After worship, I apologized again, and she said it was no problem and she was glad we were there. I know I am self-conscious about Stephen’s behavior, brothers and sisters in Christ are always very loving and accepting of him. Multiple people came up after worship and introduced themselves and seemed happy to meet Stephen. I didn’t get the impression from anyone that Stephen interrupted their worship. Much like I get here at home.
And while I believe worship is important and significant, and I believe that it should be reverent and honoring towards God— I wonder if Stephen didn’t preach his own sermon that Sunday. Worship should also be joyful, full of singing, smiling, praising, praying and even laughter. In Psalms 126 the Psalmist says, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Our mouths were filled with laughter then, and our tongues with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord had done great things for us; we were joyful.” When God’s people recognize the blessings He has showered on us our joy should overflow in us and even erupt into laughter. When I think about the times that worship has seemed like a chore, when the songs sounded like a funeral dirge, and the preaching was hollow and empty—it is during those times that what we lack is the joy that overflows in laughter—joy that can be found in the laughter of an 18-year-old autistic boy, who seems to not understand what is going on most Sunday mornings—but who may at times be the most aware of us all.