The service today was different. Really different. After our greeting time, there was nothing planned. Well, not exactly nothing. I did have some things I wanted to say based on Scripture passages and I had some choruses and hymns picked out that we could sing. But beyond that, it was just Holy Spirit time. No Junior Church. None of the trappings of a "normal" service at our church. So what was wrong with me? Was I just lazy?
One of the burdens God has plopped on me recently is the need to meet with God during a service. I remember the years before I became a pastor; sitting in the pew and just following along with the order of service in the bulletin, mentally checking off each item and counting down until we hit the benediction. In essence I was just mailing it in too many Sundays. I felt better for having gone through the motions, but I wasn't really doing what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn't engaged as I should have been. And I know that this has happened to most everyone.
Jesus had some nasty things to say about the Pharisees' obsession with tradition. I doubt he'd like our version any better. The folks at my church are wonderful about their goofy pastor changing the service around and catching them off guard. I know of churches where exchanging the hymn for the prayer would cause an after-worship board meeting. But even if we aren't overly rigid in our liturgy we still have our expectations. We depend on the service to run a certain way. When things get routine for me, the temptation to coast through is strong. I don't want anyone under my spiritual care to be tempted to simply accomplish "church" on Sunday morning when we come to meet with God.
I read this morning of Moses having to put a veil over his face after speaking with God because he literally glowed from the experience. That's what I want my time with God to do for me. Isn't that what we all want? Or do we desire deep down to cling to the comfort of the ritual order of service? Are we genuinely irked when the service runs ten minutes long so that we don't get home on time? Is Sunday morning all about us or about God?
The church building itself holds no magic. I don't have to meet God within those walls. I met God while driving home at sunrise this morning. The reds and pinks and oranges flushed the eastern horizon with color, as if God has just gotten out his paintbrush. On Saturday night the clouds were nowhere to be found, but there were thousands of twinkling stars which had all been put in place by my Creator, and they were all winking about His love for me. Friday night I met God in the Fort Wayne Memorial Coliseum while bands were singing and playing at volumes these old ears have trouble with these days. The sanctuary isn't the exclusive home of God. But it is a place we've set aside in which to meet with Him.
I've always wondered about the Shroud of Turin. Is it really the burial cloth of Jesus? In a way I'd like to be reassured that it isn't. Would my faith in Christ be deepened if I could see the cloth He was buried in? Would my relationship with Him be stronger if I could touch that shroud? Somehow I doubt it. I think that just like Jesus told Thomas, we are even more blessed because we believe without having to see for ourselves. We have a tendency to bestow great honor on relics and traditions -- physical manifestations. But God has always been about the spiritual. I think it's a blessing we don't have the origianal copy of Ephesians with "Love, Paul" scribbled at the bottom. Would we be so in awe of the physical that we would forget about the spiritual? Our physical traditions are tools. Relics. Things which point us to God. As odd as it seems, our humanity seems to want to stop to admire the pointers and ignore the object they point to. After all, the pointers require only blind repetition or infrequent attention. The object they point to requires our hearts.
The service went fairly smoothly. The kids were pretty quiet. The Holy Spirit was palpably present. I think most everybody present met with God today. Hopefully even when we go back to the routine liturgy next Sunday we'll understand and remember the meaning of worship. While it's comforting to have a routine, some of the freshness can't help but to be squeezed away. We've been given such an priviledge to meet with God and be His children. Why would we want to go through the motions?