Doing some stretches. Carbo-loading (translation: stress eating lots of chocolate and white bread). Having some extra coffee. Trying to ignore the beginnings of canker sores that will be nasty and painful in a few days’ time.
It’s Holy Week, y’all.
It occurred to me, in looking at my calendar for the week, I don’t have any more time-consuming obligations this week than i normally would. In fact, i have fewer places to be/things to do, because we cancel some of our regular doings at church. So why does it feel like a marathon, every single year in the home stretch to Easter?
In the interest of self-awareness and self-care, I have been especially mindful of the feeling this year, and i figured it out: it doesn’t feel like a marathon. It feels like a job interview.
But i already HAVE a job.
However, a large percentage of our guests to Easter worship do NOT, in fact, already have a pastor. Or a church. And so, there it is. We are auditioning to be everyone’s church for not just the day, but for their lives. That feels uncomfortable, and it feels like alot riding on one hour of our lives.
Everybody always says it is a “good problem to have,” to run out of seats, or parking, or communion, or to not have enough space for all the children in Worship and Wonder. Well, yes and no. It’s a good problem to have every week, because then you build. You transform. These are not, however, good problems to have once or twice a year. Because that once or twice a year is somebody’s–in our case, a lot of somebody’s–first and possibly only visit to church in a very, very long time. You want them to feel fed, loved, served, welcomed…and not have to climb over 18 people to get a seat.
Every year, I struggle with whether to add another service…it would solve all of these problems, really, if we could just “divide and conquer.” In fact, for Christmas Eve this year, we did just that. And for all the fears of ‘splitting our crowd,’ we wound up with, yes, 2 smaller services than we usually have, but a much larger total than we’d have at just one service.
But for Easter, we’re not quite there yet. For all the stress and discomfort, there is something so holy about being all crammed in there, ‘together in one place…’ It also creates a sacred calling, to put the comfort and spirit-growth of our guests before our own. We try to move into the space with some hyper-awareness of who looks lost, who is sitting alone, who comes in late, who needs the nursery, who needs space for a wheel chair… There is truly a spiritual exercise in maneuvering all these people into a tiny space that i think might be utterly lost if we had ‘plenty of room for everyone.’
I’ve finally come ’round to owning that discomfort though, and not letting it own me. Nor do i let it be the elephant in the already-crowded room. “Uncomfortable? Feeling crowded?” we might say…. “Well, there is always room at our table (hospitality moment). Also, if you come back next Sunday…and the next and the next…then by this time next year, we will have a bigger church!”
This year, we will gather in a newly-renovated sanctuary that actually does grant us a little more room at the table. The new set-up is meant to provide us some flex-space–and flex-time–until we do need extra services, or a larger space. It is something of an empty and waiting place, as this whole season is meant to be, that says we are still becoming, and we are leaving room for whatever–and WHOMever–comes next. Lord willing and the concrete dries, we will be there with the doors open come Sunday.
So, as we prepare to scoot over and be a little uncomfortable this Sunday, I take a deep breath, and remind us all–my folks, your folks, and folks who might be coming to taste and see good news for the first time–that we are at worship. There will be joy, there will be laughter and music, there will be some holy chaos–but nobody, and especially not Jesus, ever promised that we’d be comfortable.
The Holy Spirit sent me a litany for this week. I’ve been humming it to myself for days now, and it is keeping the canker sores at bay. Not to mention, spinning itself into a sermon. It goes something like this:
-If the parking lot is full, we will walk.
-If the seats are taken, we will stand.
-If we run out of wafers, there will be loaves and fishes.
-If we forget the words, we will dance.
-If there are too many children, we will thank God, and we will tell more stories.
-If the mics go out, we will make acoustic joyful noises.
-If the concrete doesn’t dry, we will make footprints and call it a dedication party.
Come Sunday, we hope not for comfort and peace, but for a daggone miracle. If Jesus shows up, the good news tells itself. We have only to give the welcome.