He slips in just as the organist is beginning the prelude and glances at his watch. Why couldn’t they start at 10:45? If they had a head start they could beat the Methodists to Chili’s. He likes the chiming of the hour. He thinks of it as the tardy bell that says you are officially late. He has never cared for the candles. They are a little Catholic for his taste. He yawns during the reading of the Psalm.
When the friendship register is passed he writes other people’s names. Over the last three Sundays, he has written Emma Watson, Stephen Colbert, and Sasha Obama. Someone has to notice eventually. The first hymn seems like a high church hymn. That is why they have Episcopal churches. The second hymn sounds low church. That is why they have yuppie churches. During the children’s sermon he hopes some child will say something the pastor does not want to hear. It does not happen often enough.
He has never been big on litanies. He does not come to worship to participate, although the Lord’s Prayer is not bad. He is used to mumbling it. The anthem is a winner, but the scripture reading goes on too long. The sermon starts slow and drags in the middle, but he likes it when the introduction and conclusion are close together. He is sure the closing hymn is somebody’s grandmother’s favorite, but it is not his. He looks at his watch and then around to see if anyone is going to join. He hopes any new members will wait a week, because the game is at 1:00.
When the offering plate is passed he gives money that he will not miss. He likes the Doxology because it is short and the benediction because it means the service is almost done. He leaves the sanctuary thinking, “It could have been worse.”
Somehow he has gotten the mistaken impression that worship is a spectator sport. He has never understood that attending a worship service and worshipping are not the same. If you asked him why he comes he would have to think about it for a second. If it is to be entertained, it is not much of a show. If he wants to learn something, a book is easier. If he is after self-improvement, then therapy could be more useful. If he wants to feel comforted, then the Grand Slam Breakfast at Denny’s might be a better choice. The truth is, more than anything else, he comes out of habit.
Too much of what passes for worship is superficial: hugs that would bring sexual harassment charges in other settings, applause that seems to suggest that the true audience is not God but the congregation, the feeling that nothing mysterious is going on, that what is happening is a gathering of nice people enjoying one another’s presence.
Those who lead worship are told to keep it simple. Do not ask soul-wrenching questions. Avoid anything that is offensive. Offer sweetness rather than the hard thinking that the Christian faith requires. Lots of people get just enough dumbed-down worship to inoculate them from experiencing the real thing. Consumer driven worship leads people to the misunderstanding that worship is about our likes and dislikes and not about our commitment to God. Worship is not supposed to be easy. If worship was easy, everyone would worship.
She has had a hard week. She comes to worship to experience the love of God that makes her whole again. At the chiming of the hour, she looks at the cross at the front of the sanctuary and thinks about God’s love. As the candles are lit, she asks God to help her worship. She listens intently as the Psalm is read. During the invocation, she closes her eyes, listens for God, and opens her heart.
She feels the hymns all the way down to her toes. The litany makes her think about the awesomeness of God. When she prays the Lord’s Prayer, there is a lump in her throat on “forgive us our trespasses.” She loves the scripture reading. As she listens to the sermon she wonders what holds her back from a greater commitment. What does it cost to truly worship God?
When the offering plate is passed she gives more than her CPA wants her to, because she knows she is not just giving money, she is sharing herself. She stands and praises “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
When she receives communion, she thinks of it as receiving the strength she needs to live for God this week.
She is grateful for the benediction because it keeps her from hurrying back to life outside of worship. She lives differently because she has worshipped, because she has eaten the bread, because she has given herself to God.
This is an excerpt from Time for Supper: Invitations to Christ’s Table, which was recently published by Smyth & Helwys. For more information, see helwys.com.