by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
One Sunday last month, my wife, Charlotte, and I had lunch at a Texas-themed restaurant. As we knew from a previous visit, from time to time the waiters and waitresses will stop what they are doing, line up, and line dance to whatever song plays on the public address system. In this instance, as before, I couldn’t help noticing that while most of the young wait staff were dancing, some were really enthusiastic, dancing with something like gusto, while others were simply going through the motions, and still more were clearly waiting to “get it over with” so they could get back to whatever they had been doing.
Later, it occurred to me that we sometimes take a “get it over with” approach to church. One recent Sunday, we had a special service, including Communion and the reception of a new member. In all, the service ran about fifteen minutes past the normal 12:00 ending time. In one gathering later that week I heard comments to the effect that Pastor Kim was “giving us our money’s worth” and “earning her pay.”
But we’re not the first to feel that way. When Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, he returned to find the disciples Peter, James, and John sleeping (Matt. 26:40-46; Mark 14:37-42; Luke 22:45-46). He returned three times and each time found them asleep. Luke’s account suggests that they were “sleeping for sorrow,” (Luke 22:45b ESV) but we really don’t know. It may have been that they wanted to “get it over with.” It may have been that it was very late, well past midnight, they had just eaten the Seder meal, and it had been a very long day. It may have been that Jesus prayed much longer than we think and not the simple “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt. 26:39b ESV) that we find recorded in the Gospels. In the end, we simply don’t know; we can only speculate.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve nodded off in church occasionally, after working late on Saturday night, so I’m the last one who should be throwing stones at the disciples. But church—and worshipping God—shouldn’t be a chore or something to “get over with.” Common wisdom tells us that visitors are unlikely to return to a church if the service lasts more than an hour but I suspect they might be just as unlikely to return if the members are grumbling.
Sometimes, it seems as if we approach the entire season of Lent with something like a “get it over with” attitude. Let’s get past the gloom and sacrifice to the happy ending on Easter morning. But there is no salvation without sacrifice, no mountain without a valley, and no Easter without Lent. We have a savior who didn’t turn aside from doing what was necessary, who ultimately didn’t escape his fate, although he must have desperately wanted to find some other way, any other way. He didn’t turn away or take the easy road to “get it over with.” He died an unbelievably gruesome, unimaginably painful death. He did it willingly and he did it for people who even at the time were mocking and spitting on him. He endured it for us, for you and for me, even though we couldn’t possibly do anything to deserve it (Eph. 2:8-9).
The author of Hebrews told his readers that
“. . . Jesus,. . . endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Heb. 12:2a, 2c-3 ESV). Powerful words. Challenging words. Much too challenging for me sometimes. While it’s difficult to think of Lent as the “highlight” of the Christian year, it’s certainly a major focus. As we continue through the remaining weeks of Lent toward the “happy ending” of Easter, I pray that I—and each of us—will live and act in a manner that shows that we are changed and forgiven people with a real and meaningful message to share.
“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. . . . And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb. 10:4, 10-14 ESV.)
Copyright © 2011 by David Phelps