I have a real thing about audiences leaving a concert before the applause has ended. Every time it happens I have to steel myself not to judge. They may, I remind myself, be getting up simply because they feel suddenly unwell; or their babysitter has been trying to contact them urgently; or perhaps the exceptional Adagio of the slow movement has left them in real danger of missing the last train home. And, of course, in individual cases there may be all kinds of good reasons for a sharp exit. But as a general rule I think we all know that people simply want to get an early start at the queue down the stairs, the queue onto the train, or the queue out of the car park.
Last night we were at the Proms and I was shocked by how many people left during the first 60 seconds of applause. On the third curtain call the musicians gave a brilliant little encore, and I reckon at least 50 people must have missed it. By the time several more minutes of well-deserved applause had extracted an unplanned second encore from the orchestra, hundreds had left the building.
And here’s the worst bit: when they orchestra started up for encore number two, more than a few people who were just getting to the exit door did a sharp U-turn and sat down again. They were clearly not in the ‘urgent babysitter / about to faint / last train home’ category, then. So what were they saying?
They were saying “I have time to enjoy hearing you play for a few minutes longer, but I don’t have time to show you any more appreciation for all that you’ve given me tonight.” Now isn’t that the most scandalous thing?
And it reminded me sharply of the way I often treat God; and of the ten lepers that Jesus healed (Luke 17:11-19). Unusually, Jesus sent them off, leprosy and all, to do the very thing that someone recovered from a skin disease would do: visit the priest for official verification that it had gone. And, as they went to do this, says Luke, incredibly they were healed! All ten of them! But only one of them came back, ‘praising God in a loud voice’, to throw himself at the feet of Jesus and thank him. What’s more, he was a Samaritan – regarded as a foreigner to the people of God.
“Where are the other nine?” asked Jesus in words which ring out across their ingratitude.
And how easily we can be essentially the same, not just when it comes to showing respectful appreciation after a concert, but when it comes to showing appropriate – that is, total – thanks to God for all that he gives us.
So: next time, please don’t leave during the applause unless you really, really have to! It’s just rude! And let’s cultivate too a deeper thankfulness to God in the things of life, both the apparently good and the apparently bad. We’ll find that thankfulness is not just decent: it’s life transforming, because it brings us closer to the will of God. As the bible puts it (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18): “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”