Look wherever you can find the information and you will find that our Sunday morning service at Pilgrim United Church of Christ begins at 10:30. Though it is not written down anywhere, most everyone in the room knows the service ends at 11:30, which is when it is time for coffee hour and whatever else the day holds. Our second hands are the metronome that too often sets the pace of our spiritual practice. And we are far from alone. Every church I have ever been a part of knew what time church was supposed to be over.
At ten-thirty this morning, the worship leaders processed in and Ginger asked those who had announcements to come forward and do them as briefly as possible. Those of us who had information to share followed her instructions, but the announcements didn’t finish until 10:45. After our opening hymn, several members of the Church Council made a very necessary and well done presentation about our budget, which took four minutes. We also welcomed a new member today, which added an extra litany to our time. In between those things, we lighted the Advent candles, confessed our sins, sang fragments of several hymns, followed our children as they led us in giving as they do on Communion Sundays, offered our joys and concerns during prayer time, took up the offering, and listened to Ginger’s meditation. By the time we got to the Communion Table the hour was all used up.
Ginger and the other worship leaders did a great job of not keeping time and not allowing our time at the Table to become the spiritual equivalent of hitting the drive through window and eating in the car because we were running late. We took our time, ate and drank and sang and prayed together, and then we went out to the Fellowship Hall and the rest of the day – at 11:49. Amen.
In all three UCC churches to which I have belonged we made a distinction, and an important one, between gathering and preparing for worship. The flow moves from the prelude to the announcements to some gathering word and then the introit, which means worship has begun. I find the distinction meaningful and important because it calls us to particular focus and reverence and yet, this morning I found myself wondering how the divide affects our sense of time.
Though only one of the announcements pertained to worship specifically, the others had to do with our daily life together and all the mundane details and activities that go into being church. And it all takes time. When I sat down to write tonight, I looked up the origins of the word mundane:
late 15c., from M.Fr. mondain (12c.), from L. mundanus “belonging to the world” (as distinct from the Church), from mundus “universe, world,” lit. “clean, elegant”; used as a transl. of Gk. khosmos (see cosmos) in its Pythagorean sense of “the physical universe” (the original sense of the Gk. word was “orderly arrangement”).
A word that began as something that carried the idea of elegance along side of the sense of belonging to the world has evolved into a word that means banal and imaginative, as though being of this world takes heaven out of the equation. Yet, as we retell the story of the Incarnation, the truth is it is filled with mundane details. What it took to get Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem was one mundane step after another. By the time the herald angels sang to the shepherds they had already finished a day full of tasks belonging to the world. Can it not be that the mudane things of life – theirs and ours – are as significant as the magnificent and the mysterious, should we choose to have eyes to see that God is in those very details?
We are beginning our second week of Advent: of waiting, of patience, of wondering, of making room, of preparing. It all takes time. Precious time.
One of my tasks this afternoon was to make a soup for the week. I made minestrone, which meant there was a good deal of preparing to do. I spent a good half hour dicing bacon and onions and carrots and celery and zucchini, and then straining the can of whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes and crushing them by hand before I added them to the other vegetables and added the homemade turkey stock from the bones of our Thanksgiving bird that had simmered on the stove for about eight hours one day last week.
Any dish that is well done depends on the most mundane of preparations. The cutting and dicing and peeling are all married to the heart and art of the chef’s inspiration and his or her commitment to take time, or make time, or make room for the dish to be all that it can be. Good cooking takes time, as does good worship, good fellowship, and good living.
The life God has called us to live is far more both/and than it is either/or. Rather than divide our lives into what is worldly and what is transcendent, let us live in the creative tension at the heart of the Incarnation that saw this mundane human existence as something worth becoming.