I was sleeping soundly on a nice Saturday morning. It was, to be exact, what many Christians have called for long ages “Holy Saturday,” the Saturday before Easter.
It had been for us a very nice Holy Week indeed. In our little community, for much longer than the 38 years my family and I have been here, we’ve had a nice tradition sponsored by our Ministerial Alliance. A Palm Sunday Community Service, hosted at one of our churches, gets us off to a great start. Then, begun several hundred years ago (well, at least, a long time ago) by the Methodist Church and for lots of years now hosted by other churches as well, noon services and luncheon/devotional meetings during several days of the week. And then, the Community Easter Sunrise Service.
It’s always a great week! Not only do we join together with Christians the world over during Holy Week to thank God for Christ’s sacrifice of love and for the hope and joy of the Resurrection, we share together beautifully and meaningfully with Christians right here whose faces we know. Together we praise him. The fact that we come from a variety of Christian traditions makes the time all the more beautiful and wonderful, and we’re better together than we ever are alone. Not least, this time becomes a visible fulfillment of Christ’s prayer (almost literally, his “last will and testament”) for his disciples.
We talk, of course, about “The Lord’s Prayer”: “Give us this day our daily bread…” It is, of course, his, but he makes it ours by teaching us how to pray it. Many of us do so often and find it a genuine blessing.
But, in fact, the prayer that might be more aptly named “The Lord’s Prayer” is the one Christ prays poignantly very near the end of his earthly life, the prayer recorded in John 17, in which he asks that all of his disciples “may be one, just as you and I, Father, are one.” His prayer is for unity, and it is a magnificent prayer indeed.
When in Isaiah 11:6, the great prophet talks about the coming of the Messiah and the time when even the wild animals will lie down together in peace, and “a little child shall lead them,” I find myself wondering about little towns. You’ll never catch our Lord disparaging the “small.” Little children. Little towns. He used Bethlehem. And maybe he can still use some little towns to teach some much larger ones what is truly important.
A friend who is a new pastor at one of our local churches expressed his amazement at what he saw happening during Holy Week in this little town. He said that in the city he’d come from, a much larger place, he rarely even saw two churches from the same denomination coming together for joint worship, much less churches from all over town bowing with each other.
Excuses abound, of course. Size can be at least partially legitimate. Big churches are often very busy churches. Even doing a joint service with churches from their own “bunch” can be a challenge, much less planning and holding interdenominational services.
But some excuses are just excuses, and “The Lord’s Prayer” deserves that Lord’s people who truly honor him as the fully human, fully divine, Son of God expend a little effort to be serious about living out his prayer. Whether the walls are built up inadvertently, or whether they’re built by apathy or enmity or church marketing or party spirit or small spirit or poor theology or just coving our ears and our eyes to make sure we don’t hear anything outside of our own edifices, a glad Hallelujah or two or a heart-lifting chorus or a few of them will blast some fine and much-needed holes in some ponderous walls.
You don’t expect Walmart and Target to stage a love-in and encourage employees to meet together in sincere gratitude and appreciation. But surely our Lord should expect better than four churches on the same street in the same city in the same Bible belt carefully ignoring each other’s existence as if each one alone could “get it right,” do it better, and never feel the slightest need to raise their voices together. Then someone across town builds a shoebox-designed church with a software-sounding two-syllable name to get on with the business of “doing” church better, incorporating more trendiness, and, of course, ignoring everyone else except to out-market and steal members from the “competition.” Tastes bad. Smells bad. Is bad.
Maybe it really will take some little towns “to lead them.” Towns with ordinary people in ordinary churches who don’t feel a need to “out-mega” each other. Places where, against all odds, the churches respect each other and, despite differences, honor the Lord and his prayer. We might as well get started praising him together. After all…
Yes, it was one of the best Holy Weeks I ever remember us having here in our little town. I’d not be willing to easily let go of this very large blessing in this very small town.
Back to Saturday. Things were right on target last Saturday morning. I was snoozing peacefully, as the Lord intended on Saturday mornings. And that’s when my seven-year-old granddaughter landed right on top of me. Giggling. Soon joined by her nine-year-old brother. They wanted pancakes. And she informed me that I was late getting up anyway because she’d already heard “the roasted chicken” yelling.
The what!? “The roasted chicken,” she said again.
I was sleepy, but I figured it out. So, by the time we were together with the crowd at the Sunrise Service on Easter Sunday, I was ready when the roasted chicken crowed loudly at sunrise.
That rooster was primed and ready. And we were ready, too, to crow out and shout out some praises of our own. United as one in praise. Hearts uplifted in worship. Together.
You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!
Copyright 2023 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.