Friday, March 15, 2024

When Sunday is merely the weekend. . .

The proliferation of Saturday worship services is thoroughly understandable.  People have lives and plans and if you want them to include worship, you have to find a time that they can fit it into their busy schedules.  Sunday is no longer the Lord's Day for most Christians but merely one day of the weekend.  How many of us think of Sunday as the day of our Lord's resurrection, the first day of the week, the eighth day of the new creation ushered in by that resurrection of our Lord?  Instead, Sunday is just part of the weekend.  It is not even a day reserved for family but has become a typical work day for doing the weekly shopping, laundry, cleaning, yard work, etc.  In addition, it is the "me" day we have claimed for us -- to sleep in, to do what we want to do, and to be freed from the ordinary routines of the work week.  This is even more true of Sunday than it is of Saturday.  Weekends are thoroughly understandable but are we missing something here?  A very long time ago Pope John Paul II lamented this situation:  “Unfortunately, when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a ‘weekend,’ it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see ‘the heavens.’” 

Couple this with the penchant for transferring week day holy days and festivals to Sunday and we have minimized to the extreme any demand upon the people's time and attention.  No more Epiphany on January 6 or Ascension Day forty days after Easter or Reformation on October 31 or All Saints on November 1.  We do not know our calendar anymore.  We reduce the liturgical obligation to Sunday alone and then transfer Sunday to a time when people are less busy with other things in their lives, Saturday late afternoon.  We no longer expect anyone to arrange their schedule around the Lord but have turned our Savior into a beggar who must plead with people and bargain for their time.  As I am often reminded, time is more valuable than money and we have done our best, it would seem, to reduce the time the Lord lays claim to down to a minimum.  Then we wonder why there are so many empty pews!

This past Christmas was a pain.  I know it just as about every Lutheran pastor I know also knew it.  We had the regular schedule of services for the morning (Advent IV) and then several Lessons and Carols for Christmas in the afternoon, ending with the Divine Service at 8 pm.  Then on Monday, Christmas Day, we had the Divine Service at 10:45am.  I preached six times over two days (four different sermons).  Was it worth it?  To answer that you must place a judgment and value upon the Lord's Incarnation.  I think you already know my answer.  We have a proliferation of Christmas services largely because of the space issue both in the building and in the parking lot.  Sadly, if it were not for the many who only show up on Christmas, we could have boiled the Christmas services down to one.  Where are the faithful?  I am happy to meet the new folks who showed up for the first time and visitors who were new to our congregation on Christmas Eve but if the ordinary crew for a Sunday morning and the Christmas only folks had all come, we would have been packed for every service.  We were not.  

But this is not simply about Christmas.  It is about the way that Sunday has faded as the Day of the Lord and become merely one day of the weekend and all weekends belong to us.  If anyone, even God, expects us to disrupt our schedules, they have another thing coming.  We will worship when and if it is convenient to us and we have nothing better to do.  I wish this were only a Christmas problem.  It is not.  Sure, I know that folks are traveling and working and have to get the kids into bed at a decent hour.  I am a parent.  Our family had the same things to wrestle with just like parents do today.  The reality is that worship competes against an abundance of options -- most of which are likely more entertaining than what happens in the Lord's House on the Lord's Day.  But if we cannot get the faithful to come, how can we expect those new to the faith to learn the habit of the Lord's House on the Lord's Day?  

Something to think about for us all...

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