Last week my family was nearly 30 minutes late to church. 30 minutes! We snuck into a pew near the back mid-sermon, and over the next 10 minutes, the empty spaces around us filled up with other latecomers. After the service, over iced coffee and shouting children downstairs, we laughed and poked fun at ourselves and swapped stories of extreme Sunday lateness.
It’s hard to get out the door on a Sunday. My children habitually misplace shoes (and socks, and jeggings, and most importantly, capes). We run out of cereal and thus have to prepare impossibly complicated and time-consuming breakfasts such as toast. My children suddenly remember they despise toast and collapse in a heap of uncooperative, hangry ennui. We have four people, two of whom are fastidious (read: slow) tooth-brushers, sharing one small bathroom. And without fail, my children realize they urgently need to use said bathroom just as we’re walking out the door. We try to account for the inevitable morning delays, but still, we run late. Often. And honestly? I don’t really even feel bad about it.
Why not? First, because Restoration is a community of genuine grace, a very un-DC-like place were I don’t have to perform or appear perfect or, you know, show up on time. It’s freeing to know I can slide into the pew 15 minutes late and be welcomed wholeheartedly, not shamed or penalized. This atmosphere of grace is why we go to Restoration, and I love it.
Second, I am Sabbath-starved. I am hard-wired for a day of rest, and by the end of the week I’m aching for it. Sunday often feels like the first opportunity to really rest, and I find myself sleeping a little later and moving a little more slowly to revel in the relaxed pace. I could be quicker, more intentional, hustle a bit more to get out the door, but I don’t. On Sundays, I just want to slow down. And I’m okay with that.
But this issue of lateness has been on my mind all week. Because as I was laughing with my fellow latecomers over iced coffee last Sunday, I joked that I wasn’t even sure what happened at the beginning of the service. Let me rephrase that: I’m a church planter and postulant for ordination and I don’t know what happens at the beginning of an Anglican service, because I’ve so rarely made it to church on time. Yeah.
So I looked it up. Guess what happens at the beginning of our service each week? So many beautiful things! Quiet contemplation in the sanctuary before it fills up. A joyful acclamation of blessing. A prayer that our hearts would be open to a God who sees and knows us. A reminder straight from Jesus to love God and our neighbor. A repeated plea for the mercy of God. All of that before we ever sing a note!
Every day, I manage to get to school, work, soccer practice, coffee dates, and other events on time. The challenges to doing so are no different from those I face on Sunday. Yet I account for them in my planning so that I can be punctual. I care about performing well, respecting those who depend on me, and avoiding the shame, stress, and inconvenience of running late. As I mentioned above, these motivators don’t work as well for me when it comes to church, where I don’t feel the same pressures.
But what if I were motivated not by pressures and fears, but by a deep hunger for God and for the fullness of corporate worship offered to me on Sunday mornings? What if I entrusted my Sabbath-starved soul to God as the source of true rest, a rest that refreshes far more deeply than shuffling around lazily in my pajamas for a few extra minutes? What if there is a feast that God is lovingly preparing for me in the liturgy every single week, and I’m missing the first course? (Which, I am certain, is better than toast.)
And so, for the next month of Sundays, I’m going to try arriving on time. I may not succeed, and that’s okay; remember that trademark Resto grace I described earlier? But I’m going to try. And in the meantime, I’m going to print this prayer from the beginning of the service and keep it in my car, so that if I’m not physically in church to say it, at least it gets said while en route.
Collect for Purity
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
If you’re a chronic latecomer like me, maybe you’d like to join me in making this small Sunday shift, just for a month. I can’t promise it will be easy, but I know it’ll better than toast.
– Amy Rowe