Today was Rally Day at church. In some ways it's right up there with Christmas and Easter. At our church Sunday School has started, and the church is filled with colorful balloons, and many children. We invite the people to release their balloon at an appropriate time for them (when they would say "amen!" if they were Baptist). I always try to carry a green balloon to match my stole.
I asked one of the youth working on the "balloon patrol" how long they have had balloons on Rally Day. "A long time," she replied. "Since God created dirt."
I think you can't really experience the full impact of Rally Day unless you have been coming to church all summer, wondering if there will be anyone for the children's message, seeing the people straggle in, worshiping with the people who don't have cabins up north. There's a small sense of eschatological hope: a foretaste of the feast to come, when we will gather together for the great feast in heaven. And I'm sure there will be great crowds on that day, all ages, all kinds of people. I love the faithful few, but on the Great Day, heaven will be full. Don't get me wrong, summer worship is lovely, but there's an energy on Rally Sunday.
I remember when I first came to this church. I started at the end of May, and all summer I worked on the contemporary worship service I was supposed to introduce in the fall. I was also charged with the children's message on that day. It was my first children's message in this church, and I wanted it to be good. The gospel was "the lost sheep", and I thought I had a good idea: the children would find a "lost person" out in the congregation (a youth wearing a corsage), find her and bring her back. Then the "lost person" would tell everyone how good it felt to be found!
At the right time, I stood up in the sanctuary, which had more people than I had seen all summer. And remember, I had just recently come from a small parish in South Dakota. I said, "Would all the children please come forward?" About 80 children surged up toward the altar steps. At that time I knew that I would have to change my plans, at least a little. I couldn't send 80 kids back into the congregation to look for a lost sheep. Instead, I chose two. They found her. It worked out. Whew!