By Jim Tune
It was just another busy lunch hour in the food court. Then a young woman with a cell phone pressed to her ear stood up and began to sing “hallelujah.” While shoppers were trying to figure out what was going on, the first singer was joined by a man who, moments earlier, had been eating his Arby’s sandwich. Then a mall custodian joined the chorus. Suddenly all 80 voices of the Chorus Niagara were performing a magnificent rendition of George Frederic Handel’s masterpiece, the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
The shoppers in the food court at Seaway Mall November 13, 2010, had no idea they were surrounded by the Niagara Falls, Ontario choir. As the singers finished their performance, some shoppers sat with faces full of amazement, while others wiped away tears. Some captured the performance on cell phones. Something wonderful had happened—the modern banality of a shopping mall food court had been transformed into a sacred cathedral of astonishing beauty.
The performance was recorded by a local photography company and posted online, with the expectation that the performance might be viewed by 50,000 people. But within weeks it had been viewed tens of millions of times! The surprise of sacred beauty in an ordinary food court touched millions of people. In a world enamored with utility, something wonderful broke through.
This random act of culture in an Ontario mall is a powerful metaphor for how the church might position itself in the world. Our task is not to protest the world into a certain moral conformity, but to attract the world to the saving beauty of the cross of Christ.
The modern church has embraced pragmatism and utility that, at first glance, seem to have served us well. The trouble with pragmatism applied to Christianity is it denudes the gospel of its inherent mystery. Methodology squeezes out mystery.
I understand the necessity of programs and practicality. But when we explain the gospel to promote its practical benefits so people will sign on, we run the risk of diminishing its beauty and power. The language of utility is completely foreign to the New Testament. Instead, a great mystery is revealed there. Paul often speaks of the mystery of the cross, the mystery of Christ that was unknown to former ages, and the mystery of the resurrection. Some of these mysteries stretch beyond all human comprehension and invite wonder.
In Theo-Logic Volume 1, Hans Urs von Balthasar reminds us of something important when he says, “In the end, only something endowed with mystery is worthy of love. It is impossible to love something stripped of mystery; at best it would be a thing one uses as one sees fit.”
I wonder if we are guilty of doing just that? Through our pragmatic approach, have we removed the wonder from Christianity and replaced it with a program? Do we simply use the gospel as we see fit but fail to be captured by it? I wonder.