I’m sure I’m not the first seminarian to suddenly find herself critiquing every sermon, analyzing hymn choices, questioning the use of the worship space, exegeting the lectionary texts, and evaluating each and every transition, but I have to admit that seminary has turned me into a bit of a worship snob. Over the past few years I’ve been lucky to be able to worship with a variety of communities that have taught me much about intentionality, creativity, and beauty. Some meet in grand cathedral-like sanctuaries, others feature impressive works of art, top notch preaching, powerful choirs, or creative twists on ancient tradition.
This Holy Week, however, I find myself plopped down in a pew next to my family in my tiny home congregation in rural South Dakota. The contrast is stark: our sanctuary is simple and small, our singing is sometimes painfully out of tune, transitions between different parts of worship can be rough. We all know way too much about each other. We get nervous any time the order of service is switched up or we have to sing a song out of the dreaded baby blue hymnal. Our paraments are sometimes the wrong color. Last night we had a couple mishaps in communion, culminating with a chalice of wine nearly ending up all over the floor. Announcement time can feel like a chaotic town hall meeting. As a general rule, we aren’t fancy or polished or detail-oriented. We are stoic and stubborn and, like any church I suppose, we argue about the newsletter and who put the utensils in the wrong drawer in the kitchen and, lord have mercy, what if the kids spill on the carpet?
It drives me crazy, and I love it.
Because, like it or not, this is the particular messy and imperfect human family who welcomed me into this beautiful and sometimes straight up contradictory faith tradition. These are the people who promised to walk with me in faith at my baptism. These are the patient Sunday school teachers who told me stories about Jesus over plastic cups of Kool-Aid and paper plates stacked high with Oreos. This is the community who has held me in prayer and showered me in endless support and encouragement as they sent me off into the world, to college, to camp, to Urban Servant Corps, to seminary. These are the people who assure me that there is always space for me here, always a place to be seen and known and loved, however imperfectly.
This a community made up of stoic farmers who might not talk about Jesus a whole lot, but who embody Christ’s command to love the neighbor through endless property upkeep and sidewalk shoveling and Easter breakfast cooking and community fundraisers for people who are sick and visits to folks in prison. It is a community comprised of faithful women who patiently piece together quilts for Lutheran World Relief, who prepare meals for funerals and treats for fellowship hour, who organize meal serving at the local soup kitchen, who make it a priority to keep the Sunday school program up and running, teaching kids songs and stories and reminding them over and over just how loved they are. It is a community who, despite declining membership, persistently gathers together each week for worship and prayer, who might not talk about their faith in regular conversation, but who know that for some mysterious reason, it is important to keep gathering to hear these ancient stories and to cling to the stubborn hope that the Spirit still moves among us.
It is a community who gathers these three days to remember the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection. To touch, to taste, to see, to hear the strange and beautiful promise of Christ’s body and blood broken and shed for us. To witness anew the horror of the cross. To be comforted by the hope that there is no place too lonely or dark or horrifying that God has not already gone. And to gather together once again on an otherwise ordinary Sunday morning to remind each other of the seemingly impossible: that Love gets the final word, that the darkness does not overcome the Light, and that death has been defeated.
And because of all this, we cling to the otherwise laughable promise that God dwells among us here, even in our off-key hymns, clumsiest of worship services, and most imperfect attempts at loving each other. After all, from the manger to the cross to the road to Emmaus, our God has a habit of showing up in the places we least expect.
Blessings on your Holy Week. ❤