At 10:55 we still needed a tambourine player, someone for the castanets, and a third for the wood block. I also noticed that the tune listed in the bulletin for “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” was not the one the organist had been cued to play. At 11:01 I slipped into my seat in time to hear the last announcement and sucked in air as the liturgist shifted our focus to worship. This was not an atypical Sunday morning at Grace Church.
For several years now, I have been part of worship planning. Dissatisfaction got me into it. I realized that I had become a carper, frequently criticizing this feature or that in worship, rarely bringing a right spirit to the dialogue. Acknowledging, at least to myself, that it was me more that worship that needed changing, I volunteered to be part of our worship team. It’s one of the worst—and best—things I’ve ever done.
I’ve learned much along the way, more than I will tell here. But only at church this morning did I finally realize that worship happens not only as we “do” the Sunday service but also as we get ready to do it. That is the truth I want to share. God receives our worship as we imagine it, plan it, rehearse for it, and yes, as we do all the mundane tasks like ordering palm branches, turning type into transparency, and finding someone to play the wood block.
Doing the latter provided my moment of epiphany. I was looking for an adult with rhythm to do the job. Having already found players for the tambourine and castanets, I passed by several arhythmic congregants. Then our organist came up with the twelve-year-old daughter of some visitors. “I don’t know if you want me to recruit for you, but how about having Erin play the woodblock?” Yikes. It was one of those times when you have a ten-minute conversation with yourself in the span of two seconds. “Sure. Hi, Erin; have you ever played the wood block before?” Turns out she was a percussionist in her middle school’s band.
The obvious lesson about overlooking the gifts that children bring to worship is not the one that I want to talk about. Nor do I intend to suggest that affirming a child is a fabulous way to convince any seeker parent that your church is a wonderful place to be. My moment of epiphany came in recognizing that worship occurs in the details to which we attend before our Sabbath acts.
It’s always been that way. As Abraham prepared the altar, his obedience was already worship, so much so that Isaac’s actual sacrifice was unnecessary. As David wrote each psalm, his lyrically creative thinking brought praise before the psalms were shared and used at temple.
So we, in our choir practices, in writing Lenten or Pentecost litanies, in practicing our instruments, in perfecting our dramas—in all the sundry ways we get ready for worship, we offer sweet incense to our Lord. Our corporate acts of Sunday worship, using our most eloquent words and tuneful songs, no doubt satisfy God’s hungry heart. God loves the products of our effort, both perfect and imperfect. How pleased God must be simply to see us struggle to get it right. How God must smile to see us depend on each other’s gifts to accomplish liturgies we could not produce alone. How God must delight in the fellowship we experience in choirs and drama troupes and set-up crews.
Neal Plantinga once described shalom as “the webbing together of God’s people in justice and delight.” Worship and our preparation for it webs us together. Each act of worship is important. Buying the communion loaves and filling the cups is as important as reading the sacramental words or distributing the elements. Preparing the worship folder is as important as writing the words that go in it. Monitoring the sound system is as important as producing the sounds it amplifies.
How would the Lord be worshiped? I am convinced that the more we each participate in some facet of Sunday worship, the more our entire lives will feel like worship. The music we learn for Sunday will stick with us from rehearsals through the humdrum of our days. The lectionary text we practice reading in preparation for the Service of the Word will begin a dialogue with God that lasts all week. The poem produced for communal penitence or praise will bless God with each word penned. So shall the Lord be worshiped. God makes our lives abound with joy.