Sundays in September at church are a glorious thing. About a third of the congregation I serve takes the summer off. They travel, to the beach or the mountains or to other countries. They visit relatives. They go camping. They sleep in and go to brunch and enjoy leisurely coffee with the ever-shrinking Sunday paper. And then, like magic or clockwork, come the Sunday after Labor Day, they’re back in their usual pew, tanned and relaxed and joyous to be with the people again.
By the second Sunday after Labor Day they have remembered the routine and dress rehearsal is over. They know to come early so they can find a parking place. The pastors robe. The acolytes light the candles. The choir processes. The prelude begins and the anticipation of what is to come is palpable.
Last Sunday I sat up front looking out on the congregation. It’s one of my favorite things to do. There’s so-and-so; those kids grew a foot over the summer; she’s sitting by herself now. We get to baptize that baby this fall. A young couple! Maybe they’ll come back.
And as I looked out over the congregation I saw a family I know enter. Grandma, Grandpa, other Grandma, mom, little girl, other little girl who’s lost her hair because she’s going through chemo because she has a tumor in her brain.
Nothing makes you question the point of worshipping God like seeing a bald five-year-old come into church.
It’s the hard part of being a pastor and of being a person who believes in God. Terrible things happen all the time, everywhere. Children get cancer. And God lets it happen.
Tragedy will continue to strike. People will ask why. People will blame God. People will worship God. None of it makes any sense.
What I know is that on Sunday this family was greeted with love and joy. And we still sang the songs and said the prayers and passed the peace.
Maybe that child’s presence in the congregation grounded all of us on Sunday, a physical reminder that the world is not perfect. Maybe we all had to dig a little deeper about this God we worship. Maybe we peered into the abyss and saw paradox, joy and sorrow, community and loneliness.
And maybe I realized why some people take the summer off from worshipping God.