By Chuck Griffin
The pandemic has seriously impacted our ability to worship as we like, and there’s no telling when we will return to something resembling normal. Times like this offer an opportunity to get back to basics, however.
At a minimum, when Covid-19 is gone, we should be ready to worship in a powerful way, perhaps more powerfully than ever. With that in mind, I thought we could spend the rest of the week talking about worship’s four big “parts,” something I’ve done before in the form of a sermon series.
Worship experts use different terms for these four parts of worship, but I like these: Gathering, Word, Celebration, and Sending Forth. We’ll begin today with gathering, of course.
The gathering time is perhaps the most confusing of the four, simply because many Christians don’t consider it part of worship at all. Much of it happens before we’ve officially “started.” When we neglect it, however, we’re like a traveler who begins a journey by tripping in the first few steps and cracking a kneecap. The rest of the journey will be painful, and the traveler may never reach the destination.
At the latest, the gathering should begin somewhere near the church lawn, before we ever enter the building. It begins as we ready ourselves for why we have come to this place—to encounter God and join with others seeking to do the same.
If you’ll pause outside a church building for a moment and breathe, you’ll see there is so much designed to put you in the right frame of mind. The exterior design of most church buildings is intended to point you toward God, to say to you, “Lift up your eyes! Look up!” We’re granted a moment of perspective, remembering where we stand in relation to God.
Where there are bells or carillons, the ringing is a call to the faithful and a reminder to the lost that something special is about to happen.
You may have noticed that I said the gathering begins near the church lawn “at the latest.” I’m probably stretching the concept of gathering a little, but I would argue it begins long before we cross the church property line. Are you preparing yourself for worship through encounters with God during the week? Was your Saturday night an appropriate prelude to an encounter with God, including plenty of rest?
Once inside the sanctuary, the gathering continues as the service formally begins. Our individual readiness becomes a group readiness, and when we gather correctly, great things begin to happen. We feel it in the recitations and the singing. The prayers bind us together.
And we should expect great things. Just look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:19-20, words given to us very clearly in the context of church life: “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
God is present when we gather. Not only that, the holy decisions we make as a church align us with events in heaven.
When worship is properly understood, the question regarding church attendance should never be, “Am I going today?” Instead, it should be, “How will I prepare, and how will I ever leave?”
Lord, as we find ourselves denied worship in the ways we most enjoy, help us to consider what it means to gather in your name. Amen.