Can we think of going to worship as going to a party?
When you think about it, our Sunday morning gatherings look like ritualized parties; parties where our actions have been more formalized than if we were going to a party at a friend’s house. In some ways the four parts of our communion services, Gathering, Word, Meal, and Sending, parallel what happens at our non-ritualized, non-deliberately-religious get togethers.
First, to have a party we must gather together. We are a people who occupy homes in a wide variety of places. We also occupy ourselves with vastly different work and family life situations. Sometimes when we have a party we tend to invite folks who are like us. Yet in worship, all divisions cease when we gather together. Worship on Sunday morning just wouldn’t be the same if we all did it separately in our own homes. God calls us together to worship as God’s people.
Next, it’s story time! When I go to a party, I ask my friends what is new in their lives and I hope to hear some good stories that I might be able to relate to. I also look forward to being asked about my life and to tell my friends about the newest batch of beer I brewed or about how raising a family can be so difficult sometimes. In the same way, after God has gathered us together, we hear the stories of God’s family throughout the ages revealed to us in the readings for that day. God’s word comes to us through these stories that we may see God’s great love for us and all of God’s people gathered together.
What would a party be without some great food? Labor Day celebrations need burgers and dogs on the grill, cocktail parties need cocktails, and what would a birthday party be without birthday cake? Each party has its own theme for food and worship is no different. The theme for our worship/party is Jesus! (Remember, 90% of the time at church the correct answer is Jesus.) The extraordinary body and blood of Jesus are presented in, with, and under the bread and wine made from ordinary wheat and grapes. This meal, offered freely to all, is one of the greatest symbols in worship. Food and drink are distributed freely to all regardless of any division we may attempt to impose upon it. It is not earned. It is pure gift.
Of course, all good things must come to an end and most hosts make it clear their guests are to leave at some point. With the work of the party accomplished, good times had, stories told, and food shared, it’s time to go back to our regular lives. Worship is different. Oh sure, worship comes to an end and we go to Sunday School or on to breakfast. But worship is different because we are a changed people. We who were gathered, who listened to God’s stories of love, who received God’s grace unbounded, are changed and we are SENT out into the world. In this way, we can never return to our ‘regular lives’ because God sends us out saying, “Go in peace. Serve the LORD.”
Worship has reoriented us toward lives of service, striving for peace and justice among all God’s people. Worship has embodied the mission of Jesus Christ in the world, welcoming all, feeding all, embracing all. Worship is the party to which all are invited, and from which all are sent having received boundless grace.