December 17, 2013

Sleepy Sundays

I had a grieving parishioner who started coming to church regularly during a terrible year of tragedy and loss. This person would arrive, sit down in the pew, and promptly fall asleep, waking only to take communion, and then only if jostled.

Scolded by an embarrassed family member, my parishioner sighed -- guilty as charged -- and said, “I can’t sleep at night. I can’t sleep in the daytime. My mind is full of terrible things. But when I sit down in church, I fall into the most peaceful sleep. Sometimes it is the best hour of the whole week.”

Sunday is our sabbath. But do we rest when we come to church? Do we experience that peace which passes all understanding, and let our weary souls lean back on the everlasting arms? Is coming to church a time of replenishment, or just one more place where we are called to be engaged and at the ready?

We emphasize leadership development, and Christian formation, and stewardship, and choir practice, and children’s activities, and youth group, and fundraising, and committee work, and so much more. And by necessity, much or all of it happens on Sundays in many congregations.

I keep thinking back to my sleeping, grieving parishioner, and wondering if deep rest is not the gift we most need from our time in church. Our weeks are busy and, in most cases, stressful. Our burdens are heavy, and when church adds to them, it’s no wonder we’re tempted just to sleep in.

What would restful church look like? How could we run our complex congregations in the spirit of Sabbath-keeping, rather than work-making? How might we judge our efforts by the lifting of burdens, rather the the more conventional measures of accomplishment and growth? How might we who are worship leaders in the church make space for the rest people need, even at the expense of alert listeners for our sermons, or participants in our lovingly planned programs?