Sometimes the traditional worship service is criticized as being the “same old thing,” week after week. There is indeed something in us all that tires of the ‘same old thing’ over and over again. But there is also a part of us that wants that; we want the same old thing over and over.
We are just past the Christmas season, and part of the joy of how we celebrate Christmas is our Christmas traditions, those things we have done the same way, over and over again. My wife always make Swedish meatballs for Christmas dinner, just like her mother and her grandmother before her. The meatballs taste great, and there has never been one single complaint about the ‘same old thing, year after year.’ It is an old favorite, and if my wife ever said she was going to make beans and hot dogs for something new and different, there would be grumbling by all. No one wants anything new and different for Christmas dinner. We want the old favorite, that which we have enjoyed for years.
So how does a song become an old favorite of anyone, except by singing the same old thing over and over again? Much of our worship service is the same thing week after week. But in a world and in our lives where everything is always changing, sometimes way too fast, it is nice to have at least some things stay the same. As much as we like the new and the different, we do also like the comfort of the familiar and the stable.
Clayton was in the high school youth group at a church I served several years ago. He liked going to the youth meetings and activities, but he needed to be dragged to church by his parents on Sunday mornings. Then he graduated, enlisted in the army, and was sent to Korea, far from his parents. He was now, finally, free to sleep in on Sunday mornings. But Clayton did not sleep in. He still went to church. He wrote to me in a letter:
Everything is so different here. I go to work instead of school, my parents don’t tell me what to do but the army does, I am with all new people, and if I go off base it is a completely different language and culture. Everything is different. But Sunday morning worship is the same; the same hymnal, the same service, and the same songs. I like that. It feels like I am still connected to the same God, the same faith, and to home.
The ‘same old thing’ had become a ‘familiar old favorite’ for Clayton.
Philippians 3:1a — It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.
Hebrews 13:8 — Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Job 8:8-9a — Ask the former generation and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing.
Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, as to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, and helpless and defiled.
Tell me the story slowly, that I may take it in,
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon;
The early dew of morning has passed away at noon.
–Katherine Hankey (1834-1911)
This poem was written in 1866 and was the inspiration for the popular hymn I Love to Tell the Story (1867)