In college I worked at the mall. We looked forward to the day after Thanksgiving so that the shopping extravaganza would begin. As a commission salesman this was the time of the year where money was made, it could make or break your year.
It was a long season, 13 hour days for four weeks. During busier days we could barely get a bite of food or take a short break. People were constantly wanting something, nerves on edge. After a few weeks I could not wait for Christmas Eve. I wanted this season to be over. I could not stand another Christmas song (we heard them everyday all day for four weeks) and I did not feel the “spirit of the season.”
On Christmas Eve I would leave the store 15 minutes early so that I could attend worship. I was tired, worn out, ready to get to bed. But something within me called me to the rhythms of the worship life of the community. All those years living the same pattern helped me find in the gathering, in the meeting, a renewed sense of my vocation as a follower of Jesus.
Later this week we will gather for Christmas Eve once again. Those that gather are looking for familiar rituals: candles are lit, songs are sung, the story of Jesus birth is told. Visitors on that night come for different reasons, some want to hear the story told other might just want to reminisce about their childhood. No matter their reasons they have come and now those of us who lead the gathering need to make sure that what takes place is not just “what people want” but Christian worship at its best!
In some ways the tensions around worship this time of the year are the tensions of every Sunday. What is the gathering for? Why do we gather to begin with? What are the marks of being this gathered assembly called the church? Liturgical theologian, Gordon Lathrop asks these questions to evaluate the gathering:
“Does this community meet on Sunday with a sense of lively counterpoint to the whole week? Are the scriptures read at the center of the meeting as if they were the book of life itself? By one test set next to another and by the whole broken over in preaching, is the synaxis made to speak of God’s grace in Christ? Is the meal held? Is it seen to be the eating and drinking of the meaning of the scriptures? Is this word and meal understood as taking place in a hungry city and a hungry world? Are the prayers both thanksgiving and lament? Is the bath seen as the way one enters this asembly? These the the questions the ordo raises. They are not simply matters of taste. They are questions of Christian identity.”
from Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology, p. 162.
On Friday many will gather in our sacred spaces for worship. Maybe those who wonder into our churches are just like I was all those years ago: Tired, achy, worn, looking for something that they might not be able to express clearly. They have been busy shopping, decorating, attending parties. Something draws them to the meeting. What questions have we asked in preparation so that those who gather will experience Christ?