I recently offered condolences to a friend following her father’s death. Her father had served as a pastor for many years. With gratitude to God she said, “My father loved Sunday mornings. He was born on a Sunday and he died on a Sunday, and that just seems appropriate. He loved getting up on Sundays and going to church, and he did it throughout his life.”
Something in the loving exuberance of that description stimulated my own reflections throughout the day. I hadn’t thought to say it that explicitly, but I love Sunday mornings too, and I’ve loved them since I was young. As a youth, I looked forward to walking in the doors of the church education building and moving down the hallway to the youth room. It was a special place for me, with friends and teachers I loved and respected.
I loved the sense of responsibility I felt as I left the classroom early before class ended each Sunday to step into the sanctuary to operate the elevator for older members and to serve as usher in the balcony. I loved sorting through the bulletins and running downstairs to get more as the crowd increased. I counted heads, took up the offering, and directed people to Communion. I loved singing the hymns, listening for the anthem, thinking about the sermon, and the sense of connection, community, and purpose that came through worship.
I loved the people—the older people and their encouragement, the friends my age and the experience with my family. I loved the quaint sounds of the old liturgy—“We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table, Lord.”
In my elementary years, we’d stop by a fast-food place for lunch and pick up the Six Hamburgers for a Dollar Special, and in my high school years we’d swing for the more upscale hamburgers with onion rings at a family diner a few miles beyond the city limits. Sunday mornings were chocked full of family rituals, personal connections, spiritual encouragement, new learnings, and mutual support that drew us into the spiritual life, focused us outward, and lifted us upward. I loved Sunday mornings. I have more family memories and personal recollections of special people on Sundays than from any other time during the week.
I still loved Sunday mornings when I became a pastor, even through I frequently grumbled about the inescapable sense of responsibility that weighed on me in anticipation for Sunday services. I discovered early in my ministry that every single week has a Sunday, and every Sunday has a worship service, and every worship service has a sermon or liturgy that requires preparation and work throughout the week, and this reality has not always been easy. Many Saturday nights and Sunday mornings early in my ministry were marked by panicked desperation as I clamored to get things together at the last minute.
Eventually I settled into a deep and consistent pattern that became extraordinarily meaningful for me. Each Sunday morning, I’d go to the church office early in the morning before anyone else arrived, usually long before sunrise. I’d fix a cup of breakfast tea, pull out the sermon manuscript or open the computer file and quietly walk through the sermon over and over again, making little corrections, amendments, additions, and edits. I found the complete silence of the church early on Sunday mornings to be extraordinarily replenishing for my spirit. I’d rehearse every word of sermon, and condense the manuscript to an outline, and eventually to a few notes. I’d replay the entire service in my mind. Sunday mornings were a refreshing time of spiritual anticipation. They were prayerful times of attention to the task of worship leadership.
Sometimes I was entirely surprised by the new twists and turns that emerged in my sermon preparation after a good night’s sleep, and I’d end up taking the sermon in directions I’d never imagined during the week of preparation. Sunday mornings were harvest days, times to receive the fruit of the week’s labor as it became ripe and ready.
As the service time drew closer, I’d heat another cup of tea and walk my way through the worship order in my own imagination, making notes about announcements, people in the hospital, or Communion instructions. I’d write out the information about new members who might be joining. Then I’d unlock doors, turn on lights, and check the chancel area to move every piece of furniture, collection plate, candlestick, tablecloth, and flower vase into just the right position. The ritual that marked the completion of my preparation was a trip to the copying machine to enlarge all my notes to 110% of their original size so that I could read them more easily.
Other people would begin to arrive—the custodian, musicians, staff members, ushers, greeters, and I’d briefly coordinate with them about different features of the worship service. Finally, I’d head to the foyer or the entryways to greet, meet, mingle, and talk with members and visitors as they arrived. I loved Sunday mornings! After the services ended, I’d visit with people until everyone was gone. Then I’d grab my satchel, gather the family, head to the parking lot, pick up something to eat on the way home, and collapse into an afternoon nap. I loved the Sunday routine from before sunrise to early afternoon. It provided a sustaining rhythm that continued for years.
I still love Sunday mornings, even though they provide a different rhythm than before. Most Sundays now involve waking up in a hotel room or driving many miles before sunrise, and then stepping into a sanctuary I’ve never seen before to preach to people I’ve never met. Each place is distinct and every gathering is unique in context and style, and yet I still feel strangely at home in the rhythm of Sunday worship. Like the old John Denver song says, each week I feel like I’m “coming home to a place I’ve never been before.”
Some years ago I visited with a member of a congregation who was expecting to receive a new but yet unannounced pastor. When she described her hopes for the new pastor she said, “Most of all, I want a pastor who wants to be here.”
People intuitively know how pastors, musicians, ushers, greeters, lay readers, and lay leaders feel about being present and leading worship. In worship, we express our adoration to God. We receive God’s love and love God in return. Worship rests upon an emotional, relational context. How cool when worship leaders, lay and clergy, communicate through every attitude and action that there’s no place we’d rather be and no one we’d rather be with than the people worshipping God right here, right now, on this Sunday morning.
As the Psalmist words it, “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord…” (Psalm 84)
I love Sunday mornings!
Yours in Christ,