Preparing for Worship -- Rev. Julie Long
If you have never found yourself in the narthex just before the worship service begins, you may not know one of the great secrets of our church life. If you do not serve as an usher or have not lined up in the processional as a choir member or Deacon of the Week, if you have never been running late to church and entered through the front doors to the sanctuary somewhere around 10:58, you may have missed it. Here’s the secret: the final minutes before the worship service can be some of the chaotic moments of the week at our church.
In those moments, we scurry to make last-minute preparations. I snatch the robe over the young acolyte’s head and makes sure there is enough oil in the lighter for her to make it to the altar. The Pastor hurriedly secures his lapel microphone to his tie at the proper height while the audio-visual team checks the power. Choir members attempt to remember the order in which they found themselves in the choir room as they squeeze into the narrow narthex for the processional. The staff tries to figure out who’s going to sit in what chair on the platform and if there are enough reserved spots for every person in the order of worship. Meanwhile, the ushers receive worshippers, help them navigate the crowded space, and find them a spot in the sanctuary. As the hour chimes, everything has come together and the majority of the worshipping body never knows the chaos out of which the worship leaders have come.
While much attention and energy is given to these kinds of worship preparations, I fear that sometimes we, as leaders and as the congregation, are much less intentional about preparing ourselves for worship as described in Psalm 24. Those who shall come to stand before God, declares the psalmist, are “those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 24:4).
All are welcome to enter our space of worship, no matter what outward or inward preparations have been made. No one is turned away. But the psalmist challenges us to pause before we enter God’s holy space and ready our hearts for the transformative experience that is about to take place. We are called to self-examination and repentance. We are called to take seriously the act of worship and to be humbled as we enter the presence of the God who created all of the earth and those who live within it.
How do your prepare yourself, inwardly and outwardly, for worship? Next week, as you iron your dress or tie your tie, remember also to dress yourself with humility and reverence. As you pick up your Bible to head out the door, pause for a moment to open it to read and pray the prayer of the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10). And as you walk through the doors of the sanctuary, silently confess to God how much you need this time and place and open your heart to experiencing God’s presence.