Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday Preparations

“I, uh, was going to start by telling you how much I appreciated being with you again. I’d been here several times in the Spring and enjoy worshiping with your congregation. But instead I’ll remind myself that humiliation has a place and express my apologies for arriving so late.”

The congregation murmured something soothing, filling the air with southern manners to ease any discomfort our visiting pastor might feel.

“I always preached at 11. Other churches I visit start at 11. But I know you all meet at 10. I just… Well, I didn’t even realize until I pulled into the parking lot, wondered why you were so early, then saw the sign. Terribly sorry. Very embarrassing, this.” He shook his head, the black robe that had fluttered along behind him as he moved quickly up the aisle settling around his body.

“I understand you’ve read the scriptures? And sang the songs? So I’m ready to preach? Fine. I really am sorry about this.”

I had told myself that 10AM would find me in a building with stained glass. I’ve been feeling off lately and needed to sit and stand, sing and listen, worship and pray. I had trouble getting motivated this morning, but was cheered by my discovery of a pair of pretty lime green flip flops with white straps that matched my sweater set.

I smiled and said good morning to people as we moved toward the building from our cars, easing into a grin when a woman complained about the heat. It is warm – even Chienne panted through our morning walk. She believes that shade should be appreciated and likes to sit for a moment under the nice trees she finds. I, on the other hand, prefer to hurry home to the air conditioned environment in which we live. I reminded myself that some of the congregation seemed to enjoy the current temperatures, sighed, and walked farther inside to escape the humidity.

I found a seat toward the left side of the large room. Filling out my check and glancing through the program eased the wait for the sounding of the hour. One of the elders – a middle-aged man with a deep Southern drawl – stood to greet us. We started with a prayer that our visiting pastor was safe and perhaps running a bit late. Nobody had heard from him that morning and we hoped nothing bad had happened. We then moved through the shared readings, confessing our sins, singing our songs – both the hymns that change week by week and those shorter songs that remain constants in our worship services.

I rather prefer the latter. The sounds are rich, words familiar, and the tunes linger peacefully in my memory. We are forgiven. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. You shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace.

Throughout the service though, I was struck by the feeling of anticipation. I would catch heads turn out of the corner of my eye, glancing toward the back of the church, wondering if our pastor had arrived yet.

My thoughts drifted – as they often do – but in a rather new direction. I do not believe Christ will return in my lifetime. He hasn’t so far, so why in the next 60 years? I find it difficult to believe that whatever signifies the time has come will occur in the near future when so many have waited before me. So I feel no urgent need to repent and prepare for meeting my Lord. After all, I took this quiz online and it said I wouldn’t die until the end of March (or was it May? The month began with an M.) in 2067. So there’s time.

So when I screw up, I assume there’s time to fix it. If I drift away from God – not praying, not really including Him in my general flurry of thoughts – I’m not overly concerned. He always guides me back and I’m always willing to return, so why stress about it?

What struck me was that my congregation wasn’t feeling stress. We were just waiting in a productive way. If he didn’t arrive, we were OK. Perhaps we looked around when hymns started, waiting for a signal to stand up, feeling a bit like a flock with a fellow sheep in charge. The readings were a bit off when people paused between different words, but we meant what we said so it was worthwhile to speak. The choir stayed seated while a woman sang The Lord is My Shepherd in what I think was Korean. It was beautiful and somehow special being heard at a small town church in the South.

We’re preparing as if he’s coming, I realized. We’ll read and wonder why those 2 scriptures were chosen because I didn’t immediately see the link. We stood and sang and greeted each other and I felt my heart lighten. I go to church – among other reasons – to connect with the loving, patient, peaceful side of myself. It’s there, but it sometimes gets squashed under the irritable, impatient and busy. That gentle side emerged throughout the service as we continued to move forward, hoping our leader would eventually make his way to where we waited. And there was joy and peace in that preparation. So as I watched people take turns glancing toward the back, I realized we were united in purpose, wanting to be ready if he did arrive to speak to us.

And we were.


PPB said...

Oh my gosh. THis is beautiful but the experience of being late to preach....worst nightmare!

Anonymous said...

i total feel so much of what you have written here....

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