Looking out over the congregation on Easter Sunday was startling. "Startling"--that's weird to me. "Startling" is the word that comes to mind. I mean this in no pretentious, pastor's-'bout-to-wax-theological manner. In other words, NO: it was not "startling" that our congregation literally grew by 100%. Such a pulse on the average-attendance meter in no way demonstrates some overused talking point, swirling up and down all those top-ten lists penned by pastor-types that pepper our choice social media sites. Nah, I was just straight-up nervous by how many folks were there. What amounted to a whole other congregation joined us for the day!
We worshiped together. We sang. We prayed. We listened for the Word. New members joined. Shoot, we even celebrated the Lord's Supper (Word received clearly)! It was a great day.
Inevitably, though, the brain does what brains do. I've basked in the brain's reflections on Sunday for three days now. The one thing that keeps rising from out of that tome (Tomb? Place of the Skull?) is the "startling" feeling. There's more to it than nervousness. Nervousness pushes me to ask, "Are folks looking for what church is selling these days?" I'm not going to offer an exposition or make a top-ten list. The answer to that particular question is a resounding, "Who cares?"
However, the real substance comes when I turn that question onto myself: "What am I looking for these days that's worth doing; that's worth adding one thing more to what I'm already doing in my life; that's worth letting something go that I'm already doing?" Let's face it--that's what church attendance in our day and time boils down to: one more thing we will or won't find time to do. I can say that fully acknowledging the holiness of the time and place church happens. Even given the weight of the previous sentence, regardless of the endless words I may conjure to the contrary, I'll be at church ONLY if it makes sense for me to add one more thing to my life or substitute church for one of the things I currently do.
So, I projected my self-exploration back onto the increased crowd. On this Sunday, for some reason, this increased crowd found it worth adding church, one more thing, to their lives or substituting church for one of their current things. Is it theology? Well, that wouldn't make sense because every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday. Is it family? Well, family is always family. The holiday may allow for gathering, but that reasoning still falls short. Is it programming? Well, there's always programming; and, our programming stays amiable in hopes of convenience and relevance. Is it cultural? It is, and we must acknowledge that Easter is deemed the most important day for Christians, earning holiday status. Sure, CNN ran the typical show that critically approaches the faith. Though culture injected the meme of Christian faith into our minds that week, is that really enough?
While "culture" is probably the strongest of the possibilities mentioned, it may be that you can think of another. I know that whatever it is I'm looking for doesn't seem to be so predictable. Culture is strong, but could it move me with memes to the point of making additions or substitutions in my realm of comfort? Maybe, but not without major payoff.
I guess that's the ultimate question here: "What is the payoff for making worship a part of the realm of comfort--the things I adopt as things I'm willing to do?" Honestly, for me, it has got to be more than familiar faces; more than familiar settings; more than familiar routines; more than familiar music; more than familiar stories; more than familiar dress, predictable preaching, and prayers that supplicate, praise, and confess.
Something more? Something less? Maybe less is more. Who knows, for sure? For me, the payoff would have to be something like a heightened sense of the sacred in all of life. Show me where God and my life intersect. Don't give me comfort and the familiar. Change my being and my life!
Does my adding or substituting church into the things I'm willing to do in life in some way help me to see something more within and beyond my life? At least for a day, if my projections aren't delusional, it was "startling" to see how many folks thought so.