As a priest I am used to people apologizing to me for their church attendance. “I’m sorry I haven’t been there lately – we’ve been out of town so many weekends.” When I see people at a Saturday evening event they’ll often say, “See you in the morning.” And usually I do. I think people do really want to come to church and regret when they’re not here. But lots of things take us away from our desired practice of worship.
This time of year, the comments I hear from people about church attendance take on a little different tone. “I’ve missed things so much and can’t wait to get plugged back in. The new classes sound great: I’m really looking forward to the fall schedule.” For many people, there’s a real excitement about getting back to church and Sunday School. Not only do we feel guilty about missing but our desire to be part of things is enhanced. The goodness of recommitting to worship and classes is very real. Not only do feel like we should be here, we want to be here.
There’s actually some great value experienced in coming back to church after a break. (There’s also great value in rarely missing worship but that will be a subject for another time.) We realize the rewards we have been missing. We see that the practice of worship and participating in a class actually is very helpful, that life isn’t as good as when we are regular in our attendance. Absence can make the heart grow fonder in church matters too.
Of course the value is realized not simply due to the absence but through the recommitting. Returning to worship, coming back to classes, brings a fresh realization about things. We are encouraged by the recommitting, we see that our re-engagement is helpful, we come to see that the effort is rewarded.
We also see that God is not waiting for us with punishment or wrath. When we return after a period of time of being away, we sense God’s great joy in our increased effort. We feel a spirit of forgiveness issued. We are welcomed by a light spirit of celebration rather than some heavy obligation. Homecoming is joyful, not shameful.
Whenever we return to the Lord we are welcomed with joy, with peace and comfort, with an energizing charge. There we can imagine the joy in heaven over the return of one wandering soul. There we know that grace is ever present, pervasive, and ultimately determinative.
More people join churches in August and early September than at any other time. Many people find this to be the time they recommit after a brief or lengthy absence. Many things begin anew in the life of the church in the next couple of weeks. Will you begin anew? If so, you’ll find a welcoming God who never ceases to invite us into the kingdom. Recommit to worship, prayer, and study. The kingdom of joy awaits
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.