Near the end of Christ’s life, we see a great example of hollow presence. Jesus is on the Mount of Olives with his disciples. Jesus prayed and then noticed something different: they had all fallen asleep. He went to Peter and said, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” You can be present without being present.
The membership vow is to support the church with your presence, not just attendance. From my perspective, that is not simply a number on a sheet or a name on a page, it is each of us watching with Jesus. We are less our selves when people are missing.
I remember the large lecture halls I had at UT when I was an undergrad; 300 people on the history of Japan. The professor couldn’t tell if I was there or not. I would sometimes show up but not be fully present. I would take notes, but also do Sudoku puzzles. I wasn’t missed if I wasn’t there.
Church is not classroom and worship is not a lecture. Worship of the Triune God demands the gathered body of Christ being present. Presence is all of it. It is showing up and saying hi to the person next to you. It is signing in and writing a prayer request. It is singing lustily and with full voice (as John Wesley recommends). It is being open to hearing the scripture in a new way, not just listening as someone drones on. It is hearing God’s word proclaimed no matter when kickoff is or where you are going to lunch. It is praying for others and praying the Lord’s Prayer as if it were the first time, as if each line carried the weight of life and death. It is going to into the world to be Christ’s hands and feet and meaning it.
Presence is for all of us. I must be present as your pastor. I must not just go through the motions. I must not just go through the morning. We must all hold each other accountable of being present to worship our Lord or else we will just be practicing idle fancies together and not sharing in the divine life.
More than all of that, there are people missing from our church every Sunday morning and their absence is deeply felt. People who may be out of town or may be out of sorts or may be out of sync with worship the past few months. People who are not yet here but who need a home to worship God, who need to know God’s love and mercy. Gathering for worship is not an obligation but an amazing opportunity to be present before our savior, to seek forgiveness, to seek wisdom, to seek God’s presence, and to carry that presence back into the world.
Supporting the church with your presence is realizing that God is present in worship and that we are all needed to praise God fully and carry God’s presence back in the world through mercy and love and justice.
Peace to you all this day,