At church on Sunday the visitors and those returning after an absence were asked to introduce themselves and greet the congregation. The last in the line was a young woman. She spoke quietly and after the initial line of greeting, she cried out and fell to her knees crying. One woman began a song and another came over to rub her back as she lay on the floor. As her sobs died down, this mama helped her to her feet, wiped off her knees where they had hit the dirt floor, and put her gently back in her place on the wooden bench. The service continued as she recovered herself.
At the end of the service, everyone who wanted to be prayed for came forward; there was a teenage girl who was worried because her parents were fighting, a young man who wanted to accept Jesus, a teenage boy who wanted to be strong as he is "very weak", and there was the young woman again. Each was prayed for in turn as the congregation sang. We still don't know why that young woman was there but her pain was carried by the entire body of Christ on that day.
Yesterday we received our copy of the Mennonite bi-weekly magazine, aptly titled The Mennonite. In it I read a news blurb about two North American Mennonite congregations that had chosen to give up worship one Sunday a year in order to "do service." This was hailed as an admirable act. The attitude to worship conveyed by the actions of these two churches stood in marked and disturbing contrast to Sunday's service at the little mud brick church. There are two attitudes to worship that the Mennonite church can learn from.
1) Worship is the work of the church.
We do not go to church only to fulfill obligation. We do not go to church only to gain the strength to go out into the world and serve, as important as this may be. We go to church because this is the work of the church. When people can bring their pain into the church and release it there without shame, the church is fulfilling its call to bring hope and healing to a hurting world.
2) We are the ones in need of healing and hope.
The hurt is not all "out there." The hurt is often in ourselves, our families, our communities. We are as much in need of healing as the people out there we go to serve. And we cannot serve them unless we are right with God and our neighbours. We are never so righteous that we can forego this time in order to serve those who are more in need. We are in need ourselves.