While walking the supermarket the other day I thought back a zillion years ago to when I began working at Stewart's Super Saver in my home town. As I recall we had one freezer -- all we needed for the ice cream, frozen strawberries, and a few of those newfangled TV dinners. Almost all the food in the store was in the form of ingredients that had to be mixed and matched, cooked, fried, or baked, and then served up to the table. That is not the way of the average supermarket today. Aisle after aisle of fresh and frozen foods, cooked and ready to heat and eat. No cooking, frying, or baking required. I am not complaining. We use some of that stuff in our house, too. But I wonder what our fast food mentality has done to our spirituality.
I am not thinking here primarily of instant spirituality, but the lack of preparation -- in this case for Sunday morning. Growing up we never ate before going to church. On Sunday at noon we ate our "breakfast" but not before going to church. It was part of the culture of our family, the preparation of self-denial that emphasized both the Word and the Table as the food that nourished the Christian through this life to life eternal. The previous Sunday bulletin listed the coming lessons so that they could be read (but we had the references in TLH so this was a second reminder in case the hymnal was left unopened during the week). It was not so much that family devotion was our preparation but the whole week was centered upon what took place on Sunday morning and therefore we knew what to expect there (both in Scripture lessons and liturgy).
It is probably true that most worship preparation has gone the way of food prep -- we are very casual about the way we eat and the way we eat the Lord's Table. We do not put much thought into what we will be doing before we do it, nor do we put much time into preparing for it, either. I am not trying to make people feel guilty -- I am encouraging us to take the time for what is truly worth the effort of a little preparation BEFORE worship.
Our casual, quick and easy lives have left even the moments before the prelude loud with chatter. We cannot stop talking for anything, it seems. So even the barest preparation of a few moments in prayer before the liturgy begins is made difficult by the sound of constant conversation all around us. This is not some hard and fast rule that needs to come down on us. This is common wisdom and common courtesy which has gone the way of preparation both in the kitchen and in the Sanctuary.
I read the lessons many times over before Sunday morning and still I hear them new when the lector comes to read aloud the Scriptures that form our first two lessons. I cannot imagine how jarring some of those pericopes must be to those who hear them for the first time as they are read. While I am fairly comfortable with the lectionary, who would deny that some of the lessons almost scream for a few readings just to get what is being said?
I pray and sing the hymns for the day over and over again. While I have the advantage of having picked them, if we took some time before the liturgy simply to review the texts of the hymns for this Sunday we would be better prepared to sing them. The richness of the imagery and the eloquence of the hymns constantly amaze me. They are much more carefully crafted sermons than my own -- how different preaching might be if we had to compress it all to 5-7 stanzas!!
So I bid you to take the time. Our own parish website includes links to the lessons for the day so that you can easily find out what they are before Sunday comes. Maybe, if I am ambitious enough, I will work on that one page preparation piece that includes the hymns, lessons, and collect for each Sunday. Until then, you can find it all in the Hymnal or on the Internet. We search like crazy for the right thing to buy or for information, why not utilize the Internet a bit more to mine its riches to prepare us for Sunday morning? You can start by some of the things available on our own Synod's website.
Finally, it is not over until we have reviewed it all. For me this happens on Monday morning when I tune into The God Who Sings, that marvelous program of music for the pericopes that the Australian Broadcasting Corporation airs. You can get it on line by clicking the name or program above. So sing the hymns or pray them one more time... and listen to the lessons one more time... and walk through the liturgy one more time before we lay to rest the Sunday past and begin turning toward the one that is coming.