I wrote Sunday Morning on November 16, 1986 when I was a few days shy of 19. (It was so long ago I was still Lutheran!) This song came to me as sort of a surprise, and for that reason I've always had a unique kind of respect for it. That is to say, I remember vividly starting out to write this song primarily as an expression of self-pity. It is about a lonely person who goes to church. But as I wrote about my fictionalized self in the third person, it was as if in my prayer the Lord met me, right there, and asked me to look at my situation with different eyes. As a result, the ending of the song literally surprised me as I wrote it, and spoke to me at a very deep level of my need. Jesus essentially told me that I was not the real lonely one in a religious, communal, or social setting; it is He. He is lonely and aching for us to see Him.
Here are the lyrics:
Sunday morning and he walks into your churchHe sits in a pew towards the backHe listens to the sermon and he sings the hymns and he prays the prayersWhy still does he feel like no one here really caresWe go to church and we sit in our separate private clansUnaware of the need our brother hasDo you see a tear trickle down his faceOr are you trying to soak up all God’s grace for youDon’t you know that Jesus died for that one you’ve refused to seeJesus’ love isn’t only for you and meBack in church again, and yes I see him sitting thereBut tell me please, what should I sayI say “good morning” look at him and I even shake his handI’ve done my duty, now I can be through with this manJust like that I left him in my church todayNever meaning to give him a second thoughtThen I looked into the hand that I shook with his aAnd I saw the blood from the wounds of the nails that held him highThrough the eyes of the least of themJesus searches usWhat answer will you give when he asks “where is your love.”
I changed some of the phrases in the lyrics some years ago to better express the theological truth of the song (my original ending sounded rather harsh). But essentially the message is that the real measure of a Christian is his love for the forgotten ones who are right in our midst. For years and years I was quite invested in different avenues of spiritual pride, in making sure I looked very holy to myself and others. But acts of real love done in secret for needy ones? That kind of thinking or behaving wasn't even on my radar screen. There is truly nothing scarier than a loveless Christian. It is such a contradiction in terms. But if Christian formation is all about right doctrine, right information, and right experiences, and holiness is seen primarily in terms of keeping away from contaminants (namely, other people whose thoughts and experiences are not up to par with mine) -- that is pretty much a recipe for loveless Christians. The call to follow Christ has to be all about Him ravishing our souls, alluring us, awakening such a desire within us that we can no longer be satisfied with anything but more of Him. Let right doctrine follow, but let us not be skeletal and unenfleshed. Let us hang on His every word and cast ourselves into every one of His precepts not out of a prideful desire to be right, but out of a lover's abandon to her beloved: I don't care what you ask of me; everything and anything you say is the only place my heart can dwell in peace, but You who are all Good say nothing but that which makes me fully myself, so I also trust you completely....
The popular video of late by the young man who claims to hate religion but love Jesus has reminded me of this song. When I wrote this, I was quite in the thick of his thinking, and it was precisely because I was experiencing loveless Christianity. Catholics might rightly point out that going to church is not a social situation but a communal one; we are not there to love on each other, but to commune with Christ. As a Catholic, I know that now. But the missing factor is that if we do not have an experience of loving on each other we will not be able to enter into communion with Christ in the way He intends. Yes, God can and does supernaturally overcome all of our sin-created barriers, but His standard way of operating is using the love of the Body of Christ to bring sinners to repentance. Once upon a time, families came standard with a sense of communal love. In our culture I don't believe one should ever presume that today, even among "church" families. We can argue doctrine (and I believe fully that right doctrine is absolutely essential), but love must be the alpha and the omega. To love is to be holy. Period. St. John of the Cross reminds us that our final judgment will be based on how we have loved. Period. And it is futile to think we can adequately love other people without surrendering our hearts in love to the Lover who seeks us and waits for access to our hearts, who awaits our surrender.
Anyway, these are some thoughts generated in me by this song today.