It was a hectic morning at church, what with the Boy Scouts hosting a pancake breakfast, and the service projects after church, and the communion ministers going out to the shut-ins. This was the last weekend for the 9:00 a.m. service. All summer we have had families, of one sort or another, be the assisting ministers. Family members ring the bell to begin the service, process in with the cross, read the lessons, assist with the prayers of the church, and help with communion. This has been such a blessing to our summer worship, with all kinds of families and all ages a part of worship every week. (Today, a three year old helped us with the prayer responses, saying, "Hear us O God...." so that we could respond, "Your mercy is great.") Sometimes, though, right before worship, there is a flurry of activity, while assistants check in with us about the prayers and ask us last-minute questions about the service.
This morning I had just finished the Call to Worship, and we were beginning the opening hymn. The young woman who was processing with the cross stood in the back of the church, waiting for a cue. Another assistant whispered, "Do we follow you?" "No," I whispered back. "The cross goes first. Always follow the cross."
"Always follow the cross." This is good liturgical order, but of course, it is more than that. It is how we live our whole lives. We always follow the cross. The cross always goes first. Jesus always goes ahead of us. And when I say that "Jesus always goes ahead of us," I mean, specifically, the One who was crucified but lives. I don't mean the God who 'is there for you when you need him,' but specifically the one who healed the sick, cured lepers, made the powerful angry, and who conquered death for our sake.
"Always follow the cross."
There are times, I suppose, when I wonder why we keep going to worship, week after week, kneeling and praying, raising our voices in songs of praise and lament. In the busy-ness of modern life, worship has often become the most expendable thing. But I have often thought that, at its best, worship is practice: ritual practice for a life of faith. So we practice kneeling and go out to serve; we practice singing together in unison or harmony, and we go out to live together with our neighbors, creating unison and harmony where there is discord; we practice praise and lament and bringing the cares of our lives and the world before God. And we follow the cross. Always.
I don't know if worship really functions this way for most people, but I'm sure that is one of the things worship is for. Practice. It is time to practice what we will live all week. Lord, have mercy.... Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.... In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread...Send me, Jesus.....
.Always follow the cross.
Jesus always goes ahead of us.
I don't know about you, but I need help remembering that. And I need help practicing that. Every Sunday. And every day.