I have been about the business of being a minister for over thirty years now so I can accurately be classified as a veteran but I confess that the anticipation of certain worship services still fills me with a tension that borders on dread.
That is especially true of a service that is going to include a baptism or the Lord’s Supper.
While every worship service is a foray into holy territory, a service of baptism or Communion feels especially holy to me; we are, after all, in those observances enacting in very powerful ways our participation in the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So the dread that I feel is not a dread that wants to avoid what is going to happen; indeed, the opposite is true—I very much want to participate in those services but I know that I do so in my frailty and in my sinfulness and in my very obvious humanity and therefore I dread the humbling effect that my participation is going to have on me.
I do not forget the grace and love of God and the mercy and service of the Lord Jesus Christ as I come to those services; I understand and believe that it is all about God and not about me. Still, I think that some amount of dread is appropriate when approaching the holy.
I am almost overcome with a sense of both “Woe is me” and “Thanks be to God.”
I also fret some in the time leading up to a service of baptism or Communion because I worry about messing up somehow in my leadership of those services. What if I get the baptismal candidate’s name wrong? What if I drop a communion tray? What if I have failed to get the servers assigned properly?
If it all does not go just right it will, after all, be on me…or so my inflated sense of responsibility tells me. I mean, God is in control, but, after all, I am the pastor.
As I went into today’s worship I was filled with a double sense of apprehension because we were having both a baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the service.
I baptized Chandler toward the beginning of the service. I took my time getting out of my wet robe and waders and donning my lapel mike and jacket and getting my things in order because I had no further role in the service until the sermon. I could hear Casey reading the Scripture as I went down the stairs and took a detour through the choir room where I knew I could find a much needed peppermint.
What I didn’t expect to find there that I found nonetheless was a squirrel.
I don’t know what the squirrel was thinking in that moment that we stared at one another but I was thinking that maybe he would get out of the building in the same way that he got in but instead he decided to go up the stairs into the choir loft and that was when Brad, our Summer Children’s Minister, got a much more boisterous response to his welcome to worship than he had any reason to expect. I mean, no doubt most folks are glad to be there but you don’t expect them to whoop and holler when you say “Welcome” but a squirrel running around the sanctuary sort of changes the dynamics.
I, being the effective and conscientious leader that I am, hung around in the back trying to think (pray?) through the situation and had just decided that if we couldn’t catch the squirrel I would ask the folks to proceed in orderly fashion to our Chapel where we would continue the service (standing room only at that) and was beginning to formulate a plan to transport the communion trays over there when Al, one of our good choir members, came back to open a door because he thought the squirrel might come that way but the squirrel in the meantime got out another door.
I walked into the sanctuary just as the congregation began to applaud and, as I walked by Scott, another good choir member, he said to me “They’re not clapping for you” to which I responded “I don’t expect them to” and after a little while everybody settled down and our Minister of Music Blane explained to the radio listeners what had been going on and I said “I was waiting to see who was going to start talking about their love life and then start naming names” and Brad went on with the welcome.
Then the choir sang and I preached and we shared in the Lord’s Supper (we didn’t drop any trays and the servers’ assignments were carried out just fine) and we sang a hymn and prayed and went home.
I would not presume to say that the good Lord sent that squirrel and, if the good Lord did, I would not presume to say why.
As for me, I was reminded that the lines between the sacred and the profane, between the holy and the regular, between the heavenly and the earthly, between the providential and the accidental, between the comic and the tragic, and between the sublime and ridiculous can be fine ones indeed.
Woe is me!
Thanks be to God!