We All Show up Late for Church
The earliest the McKenzie family ever made it to church was during the closing stanza of the opening hymn. Every Sunday something delayed them. Little James would spit up his breakfast all over his church clothes as they strapped him in the car seat. Lindsey would hog the bathroom and delay Garrett’s shower. Tom and Cindy would hit snooze one too many times. By the time they piled in the car, broke the speed limit, and pushed open the sanctuary doors, they were anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes late. Every. Single. Sunday. Their current record was sneaking into a pew during the wrap-up section of the day’s homily. Try as they might, the McKenzies just couldn’t seem to make it to worship on time.
Mrs. Schmitz could verify these details. In fact, she kept mental records of the family’s arrival times. As they entered the sanctuary, she would pivot in their direction, glance at her watch, narrow her eyes, and shake her head. Punctuality was next to godliness on her personal sanctification scale. She considered herself a patient woman; this behavior, however, was stretching her patience to the breaking point. One Sunday, when the McKenzies had the audacity to show up in the middle of her favorite hymn, she’d had enough. She stormed home right after church and fired off this email to the pastor.
I have a grave concern about a family in our congregation. As you have doubtlessly noticed, the McKenzies are perpetually late for worship. I find it distracting, inconsiderate, and rude. I’m sure many others feel as I do. I would think that since Mr. McKenzie is an elder in the church, and Mrs. McKenzie is the secretary of the Ladies Guild, they would try to show a little more maturity and respect. Please address this situation. We can’t simply ignore the fact that a family in the congregation that is supposed to be a role model can’t even get to church on time.
After a couple of days, Pastor Robinson sent her this reply:
Dear Mrs. Schmitz,
Thank you for expressing your concern about the McKenzie family. Yes, I have noticed that they are not the most punctual of families. But as they (and others) walk into church after the service has begun, I remind myself of two things. First, I’m simply thankful that they have come to the Lord’s house to receive his gifts, whether they show up on time or not.
Second, I remember that not a single person in this congregation ever arrives before worship has begun. Yes, you, me, the McKenzies—we all show up late for church. Every. Single. Sunday. When we begin singing the opening hymn, our voices blend with those of angels in heaven, who have been belting out hymns long before we rolled out of bed that morning. When we pray, our petitions join those of the saints above, who were praying for the church on earth even while we slept through Saturday night. When we come up for the Lord’s Supper, we kneel around the unseen throne of God, amidst angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, who have been worshipping the Lamb long before we took our place in the pew on Sunday morning.
In short, Mrs. Schmitz, you too are late for church every Sunday, just like the McKenzies. But don’t let it worry you. We all are. Our little congregation is part of a much larger church—the body of Christ, both here on earth as well as in heaven. And that church worships 24/7, never ceasing in its adoration of Jesus our Savior. As we gather here in this place on Sunday morning, we enter an ongoing worship service. And as we exit this sanctuary, we leave a divine service which will never cease.
Again, thank you for your email. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday, as we all show up late to join in the worship of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end.
What we need in our fragmented world, full of hurting people, is the love of Jesus Christ, who welcomes home sinners with a grace that knows no bounds. My book Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons, is packed with reflections that go that extra mile of grace. Again and again, they present the Christ who is crucified and risen for you. Please take a moment to check it out here. You may also be interested in my collections of hymns and poetry entitled, The Infant Priest, which you can purchase here. Both books are also available on Amazon, as is my booklet Why Lutherans Sing What They Sing (also on Kindle). Thank you for your prayers and support!