The next time someone tells you that your corporate worship is like a funeral, thank him for the compliment. Joy in worship is a necessity that all affirm, but this only raises the question as to the nature of true joy. Is Christian joy like exuberance demonstrated after an athlete demonstrates his brute strength in the sports arena? Is Christian joy like that of a cheerleader or game-show-host? Is Christian joy anything like the human resources department's attempts to persuade you that it is exciting to work for your particular company? Can melancholy people have Christian joy? Can a Christian have joy in the midst of persecution? If so, what does that joy look like?
D. G. Hart explains that the way of determining true Christian joy according to the confessions in the Reformed tradition is whether or not that joy is accompanied by reverence, whether the source of boasting is Jesus Christ or ourselves, and whether or not we are depending on God.* He goes on to explain,
"Indeed, we do not believe that is putting it too strongly to suggest that Christians come to worship with the same attitude and demeanor they take to a funeral service for a professing Christian. Such funerals are times of reverence and joy. When we contemplate the death of a loved one, we are filled with sadness and are reminded of our own frailty. Yet when the deceased is a believer, the service is also an occasion for joy because we trust that God has called one of his children to be with him, and that the believer has been 'made perfect in holiness' and has 'passed immediately into glory.' Why should a worship service, where the death of our Lord is central, be any different? His death is one that we caused, death that should provoke hatred for our sin and humility for our unworthiness. This is the ethos of most observances of the Lord's Supper, a fact that may argue for weekly communion in order to ensure reverence in our worship."**
*I am not sure where he gets this. I tried in vain to find what he was talking about.
**With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 127-28.