I’m told that in a grassland area in Africa, people may walk long distances to Sunday worship with scraps of wood in hand. The people conclude a full service of worship by lighting a large bonfire to symbolize their fellowship.
A visitor from North America witnessed the event and asked villagers how they could create such a fire week after week when there was very little wood in their area. Their reply was that every worshiper, from youngest to oldest, was on the lookout the prior week for scraps of wood to take for the church in anticipation of the weekly bonfire.
Bonfires wouldn’t work in our part of the world. Imagine the fire department’s response! But the concept of coming supplied still has merit for enlivening worship. What each individual brings to corporate worship has a large bearing on how vital the gathering together will be.
And what we bring in North America can be something invisible, reverent, and of the heart.
As an example, in my childhood eight decades ago my parents, younger sister, and I walked to church nearby in a small town. We were usually among the first to arrive. My sister and I followed our parents into a row of seats and before they took their seats they knelt to pray. It was a worship custom for that congregation. My sister and I took our seats and sat in silence waiting for the service to begin.
There was no music to fill the air. As the worshipers gathered there was no talking. None of this was enforced, and it seemed natural at the time. In fact the reverence and silence were what the worshipers brought to contribute to the sense of awe they would share.
Gathering wood for the bonfire can also in a sense be what we are doing in our times when we put our houses in order on Saturday to avoid haste and stress on Sunday morning. Or when we arrive at church early in order to sit quietly in prayerful reflection on a Psalm or hymn.
I realize that some who come to worship are like wounded warriors limping in from a hard-fought week. They may arrive depleted with hardly the energy to lift their eyes to heaven. Others whose faith is little more than an inherited tradition may not have much to bring. After all, a congregation is made up of people in all stages of Christian development.
At the same time, every congregation likely has a core of believers who are inwardly energized daily by meditation, prayer, and praise, who invoke the energy of the Spirit when they come to worship. Such believers might bring an extra piece of wood to build the fire for those who come empty-handed, and all for the glory of God!
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Photo credit: Ian Carroll (via flickr.com)