When I was considering why it is I go to church, I thought of a few examples from yesterday to illustrate my main point. So let me begin with those.
Yesterday, I found out (at church) that a friend of mine died. Back when I used to help with the music, this woman and her husband would come early and sit about halfway back on the river side of the sanctuary. She had a smile that would light up the room. Every morning after rehearsal, she would greet me. I might be wandering around like a chicken with my head cut off, but Irene would be the rock of serene stability in my crazy morning. She didn’t know it, but her presence graced me. Her gift of presence and care was a sort of regular grounding. When she lost her ability to communicate from a stroke, nothing changed. She would continue to show up and attempt a greeting, which came out as babble. I could tell that she was frustrated, as was her husband who couldn’t make sense of the speech either, but the joy of her greeting was still communicated. I marvelled at her tenacity and the imprisonment she must feel, fully cognizant but completely inarticulate. She was brokeness clinging to hope.
Yesterday, I sat between two of my dearest friends. It was an unusual configuration, because we don’t often sit together in church. On my right sat the one who had put in a request for a much needed vacation, had paid and made plans for said vacation, and just last week was told that he was not given the time off. When I spoke to him the day before, I could just see the deflation on his face. No amount of spiritualizing the circumstance was helping. On the left was my friend who has been waiting for an answer to a six-year prayer. She and her husband have been faithfully trusting, riding the roller coaster of hope deferred for a long time. As we all sat together trying to sing the lines of a song whose lyrics said (about God), “Faithful, You are. Faithful forever you will be…All Your promises are “yes” and “Amen”, I was struck by the irony. How can we all sit here in the midst of disappointment and sing these lyrics? But that is just what we did. Again – brokenness clinging to hope.
Yesterday, I participated in an evening service where the sermon was not proclaimed from the mouth of one person, but the entire community. We sat together and listened to a passage and the Word was proclaimed as we shared aloud images, words, ideas, and even challenges evoked from the text. Right before this portion of the liturgy (or it may have been after), I found myself with a throbbing headache. I was singing the alto line of “Fairest Lord Jesus” with a small ensemble, trying to concentrate on the notes instead of the pain. When we got to the third verse, the four of us sang acapella and it was a moment. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the naked voices joined together in simple praise. There, in the midst of my own discomfort, was that liminal moment of worship that took me and everyone else outside of themselves. My broken body feeling pain was emitting a melody line that, when joined with the other voices, created something pure and true and good.
I don’t go to church to be good, or to get better. Church for me is not a self-help program. I go to church because my brokenness and disappointment take me there. I know I will find other sojourners who will inspire me with their own stories of hope in the midst of pain. They will sing God’s praise even when they don’t feel it or experience it. In the truest sense, church is the gathering of messy grace. Those of us who come take our wrecked parts and lay them at the alter of hope. We bring our broken bodies – full of the mixture of joy, victory, doubt, questions, curiosity, sadness and trust, to be reminded of the story of a God who brought His broken body to our world to show us His love. As we are swathed in the narrative of God’s goodness, we take a bit of the hope with us into the world and try to share it. That’s church.