[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on April 4, 2015.]
I’ll never forget the winter Interstate 94 closed, and after all the work preparing our brood of seven to leave town to spend the holidays with family, my excited, in-motion energy came to a sudden and greatly disappointed halt.
Our Christmas service here in Fargo that year was packed. The congregation spilled out into the hallway, reaching to the other end of the building, nearly to the office on the opposite end.
And as I sat out in that cold hallway with my wiggly, young family, trying to somehow absorb the meaningful message my soul so longed to hear, I felt unsettled, even miffed. I’d already missed celebrating this beautiful season with my extended family. Our being resigned to the outer edges felt like punishment on top of disappointment.
Momentarily, I wondered why so many people who don’t normally come to church had shown up, leaving us literally out in the cold. But shortly after thinking this, I realized it was selfish, and regretted that it had entered my mind.
I’d still prefer being close to the altar of our Lord, but my attitude in that moment about packed churches and my own inconvenience was misaligned. A full church should always be cause for rejoicing, even if I’m not as comfortable because of it.
The faithful stay away from church for a variety of reasons — as many reasons as there are people who have felt alienated, either by their own actions or those of others. And yet Sunday is Easter, and there’s never been a better time for the Christian faithful to return to the fold.
God did not design us to be islands but to worship him in community. In the Christian faith, we are thought of as “the body of Christ.” And we need all our parts together — yes, yours, too — to be whole.
For those who have been hurt by members of the church and stay away for that reason, consider this: We are a family and, like all families, imperfect and human. As fellow sinners, we are just as prone to saying and thinking things that are not of God as anyone.
So on behalf of the rest of us, let me say this: mea culpa. I’m sorry for our imperfect thoughts and actions. We mess up every day, but the truth is that we need you and you need us. We need each other. And whether or not you feel it, you have been missed.
It has been said that the church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners. We don’t attend church because we believe we are perfect and go there to get more perfect, but because we are broken and in need of healing.
In the end, when we stay away, we hurt ourselves most of all because we are denying ourselves a fuller experience of God’s presence.
If hurts have made you reluctant to meet God in a communal space, don’t come back for us, come back for yourself. We may not be perfect, but God is and he misses you.
Easter is the pinnacle of the Christian life. Our faith hinges on that moment in time when God rose from the dead, showing us in that supernatural, miraculous act that he was, indeed, divine, and is not a dead God but one very much alive, even now.
That reality changes everything, and is reason enough to go meet God in his home once again. Some of your fellow church family members might be tired or grumpy and not as welcoming as we should be, but God will delight in seeing you in the pews. Your time away will be all but forgotten in an instant.
It’s a season for new starts and second chances, a time to forgive, love and hope.
I hope to see you in church Easter morning. Even if I have to sit outside and you are cozy in the front pew, I promise, I will be plain happy you’ve come. And God will be, too.
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