Originally Written in April 2005
When I was taking care of my Dad, by Thursday a part of my heart had its sights set on Sunday morning. I was like a horse that knows its way home to the barn. It wasn’t oats and hay and release from the bridle I was looking forward to, but gathering with others to worship and to be regrounded in the truths of the gospel–rest and nourishment of a different sort.
Near Dad’s house there was a warm and welcoming church and most Sundays I was able to get there. Unfortunately for me and my need, one of the Sundays they cut the service short in order to sandwich their annual business meeting between the two most heavily attended services. We were briskly marched through the service with one eye clearly on the clock. It lacked the nourishing power of the previous weeks’ liturgy with its unhurried and deliberate weaving of congregational, pastoral and personal elements. Presumably they compromise the worship service this way only once a year. Nevertheless my disappointment underlined the role of the worship service in providing spiritual food. I couldn’t help but question the wisdom of subjugating the worship needs of the congregation to the business needs of the congregation.
Coming to church utterly dry, weary and overmatched by my circumstances gave me a new perspective on Sunday morning worship services. The pastor could not have known that he was participating in one of the means God ordained for bringing me specifically through a difficult situation. Yet that is why I was there, and that is why he was there, and why the worshippers were all there. Not that they were all there for ME, but there were many ‘me’s around the room, gathered to worship a God the surrounding culture does not see, gathered to feed from his Table, gathered to be reminded of the truth of the gospel, applying it to ourselves and those around us and thus being made ready for another week of service.
The church I attended there had a large number of older people in the congregation: gray and bald heads as far as the eye could see. From where I sat, I could see two elderly people using oxygen tubing and tanks to help them breathe. The worship bulletin noted the points in the service where “those who could comfortably do so” should stand. There was a place near the sound booth for wheelchairs, and week by week, a profoundly disabled person sat there. Frailty of body was understood in this congregation. The liturgy made clear that frailty of spirit was assumed as well.
When I came home, I continued to ponder this.
My congregation is much younger on average and more physically fit, but frailty of spirit is still a safe assumption. How many each week are in circumstances like I was–and we don’t know it? How many come Sunday to meet with fellow Christians, hoping for the steadying words of the gospel which put all suffering and service and shortcomings into perspective? I think it would be proper to assume that someone in the congregation has just received the worst news of his or her life. Someone is pressed dry and overmatched by a difficult marriage or a difficult boss or a difficult classroom or a difficult child or difficult parents. Someone is awaiting or processing the death of someone close to her. Fortunately for those charged with planning our worship services, the gospel of Christ crucified for sins and resurrected to power gives nourishment and hope in all those circumstances. When we are weak, He is strong. When we are dying, yet we shall live. When our heart is breaking, the God that made everything knows the feeling. When our patience snapped, or we stopped caring altogether, that sin was covered.
This is the grace and truth we need week by week.
Some church leaders feel called to supply a vision of adventure to their church members, but many people who come to church need grace and truth ministered to them week by week for the adventure they are already in.