I once read about a church in Africa that followed Sunday morning worship with the celebratory, communal lighting of a large bonfire. The pastor explained that the members of the congregation walked long distances to get to church and they brought the firewood with them.
This is an analogy to pose the question: When we in the West go to church, do we just show up, or do we take pains even before arriving to gather up and bring with us something to support the flames?
My reflections about public worship are somewhat in phase with the picture of worshipers walking to church from a distance, carrying with them their wood for the bonfire.
How so? In our home in Saskatchewan in the late 1920s, Saturday evenings were given over to preparations for worship the next morning. We little children were scrubbed squeaky clean. Potatoes were peeled, adults’ shoes shined, Sunday clothes laid out, etc. The Lord’s Day and worship were very much anticipated by these Saturday evening preparations. Something important was in the offing and it was like gathering up symbolic firewood for next day.
In his new book, The Gift of Rest, Senator Joe Lieberman describes how he and his wife get ready to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath. Detailed preparations begin the evening before. Then, the Jewish Sabbath, Saturday, is observed as a rest from labor celebrating the completion of God’s creation – on the seventh day God’s work of creating was finished and he rested (Genesis 2:2,3).
For the Liebermans the day itself has both community and family rituals that fill the celebration with meaning. His book is not about sleeping in or catching up the unfinished chores of the week. It appears to be about a celebration which turns the thoughts away from earthly things and gives the soul a rest. It serves as a marker for the whole week.
We Christians celebrate Sunday rather than Saturday as the Lord’s Day, but Sunday is a special marker of the week for us too. We gather with other believers for worship on the Lord’s Day and these weekly gatherings are extremely important markers on the path of life. Important enough to slow the week’s pace on Saturday evening to gather up some kindling to feed the flames of devotion and joy in public worship on Sunday — Resurrection Day! Joy!
We may not light bonfires in church yards to celebrate and symbolize our faith when we gather. But there are things we can do to quicken our sense of the warmth of God’s love when we gather — like setting aside time to offer prayers Saturday night for God’s blessing on the Day’s gatherings, or moving the chores of preparation to Saturday night to reduce from Sunday morning the rush of getting ready, or even making a point to arrive at church early enough to have a quiet time of meditation before the service begins.
The Lord always awaits the gathering of his people. But how much we get by way of renewal and spiritual warmth from that meeting can be greatly affected by how much we intentionally bring to it.