When I was a child there was a ritual in my home. On Saturday afternoon, my parents packed up my brother and I and our necessary belongings and dropped us at Grandmother's house. They did parental 'children not even heard much less seen' things and on Sunday afternoon we returned home.
It was during this twenty four-hour plus period that IT happened. You must understand that we enjoyed our time at Grandmother's, we loved her very much. There were other children closer to our age on her street, as opposed to our own. And Grandmother made desserts, something again that was not a norm in our household. The train, which sadly no longer comes, ran right in front of her house with a ditch beside it. We loved to listen for the train, run out and jump the ditch, put a penny on the track and let the train flatten it to a huge copper disk. But that was Saturday...IT was Sunday.
We played dominoes and solitaire Saturday night and slept upstairs where there was no heat or a bathroom. I still have a couple 'slop jars', my claim to fame when it comes to antiques. Upstairs was fun, we knew the door to the attic held back the fiercest goblins, the beds had down mattresses, and the quilts were homemade. But, we also knew when we woke up that IT would happen.
IT was church!
We didn't mind the worship itself. Far from it, and heaven forfend...pun intended... that we'd dare question IT. What we minded was the dressing up, the wearing of those stupid little hats that pinched my head, and often white gloves. It was holding in your giggles, fidgeting when you had to go to the bathroom, praying that your stomach wouldn't growl loudly just when everyone else was praying silently for salvation, but knowing that, just as always, it would.
No one stared sternly like Grandmother. She loved us immensely, but IT was to be taken solemnly, in church you sat still...period! Or else...period! IT was the longest two hours in our week.
Grandmother believed that to be a good and proper Christian you must be at church when church was open, Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, whatever. You also must dress your best and follow the rules, be on time, tithe ten percent, no slacking allowed. This was all part of IT. Do IT right or go to hell.
Visit a church today and you'll be witness to jeans, shorts, T-shirts, come late, leave early, and kids walk up past the baptismal pool to enter the office bathrooms while the minister is at the pulpit laying us out for our latest sins. They eat snacks, they bring toys, they talk. I haven't seen a hat in decades.
I'm not merely speaking of children either.
Grandmother became ill towards the end of her life, and was unable to attend church. By the time she died she didn't even dress at all, she fidgeted, she spoke incoherently, she didn't know me, much less... at least to speak about it, who God was.
But, I know she didn't go to hell.
It shouldn't matter where or how you worship. Listening to a sermon on your radio Sunday morning, surfing onto a church site and reading the message, or gathering a group of friends in the field reading from the Bible as cows graze contentedly on the hay bales that became your pews.
We can don our best attire, sit primly on the hard wooden benches at a certain appointed hour at a certain day of the week and do IT 'properly'. However, suppose we don't really listen, suppose we are only there for the show, or to show ourselves?
God loves us all, no matter what, no matter where or how or if we love him back. But, don't think me any less a believer if I choose to stop, drop and pray in the heat of the moment on a Tuesday afternoon at the mall and happen to miss the Sabbath festivities.
Beautiful churches are tributes, symbols of the worship of God. But they are just that...symbols; mortar, brick, glass. And, all too often the focus of the actual building itself brings dissent among the congregation. Sometimes we forget it's GOD's church. The fellowship of gathering is nice, and it's good and it brings a certain unity to the worship, but the where, and the how, the ornamentation, and the garbs are not IT.
IT is believing, IT is accepting.
http://www.heaven.com works for me. This service best viewed with Netscape 3.0 or better.