Take a look at our first lesson this morning (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10). Read it very closely, and think about it the next time one of our services goes a minute or two past the hour. The lesson from Nehemiah is about a worship service that goes on for the whole day. The people listen to the Holy Scriptures all day, and not just bits and pieces of it, but the whole thing. Furthermore, they heard it, “with interpretation,” in other words, with translation and explanation.
Their response was to return the next day and ask for more.
Now, to put the whole thing into its context, the scriptures had been lost to a whole generation of Israelites. They were learning things about themselves and their history that they didn’t know or had forgotten. It was being translated because they had even lost their language. These things happened because an occupying nation had outlawed their faith and culture.
As they listen to the Holy Scriptures their sorrow at what was lost transforms into a joy that is beyond measure as they come to understand what they now have.
We complain if the service runs a bit long or the sermon was not as good as we wanted or we didn’t know the hymns. But, what if we weren’t allowed to worship? Worship takes on a whole new meaning when it is prohibited. There are many places in the world where certain types of worship are prohibited. The BCP’s Eucharistic prayer calls worship a “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” It sounds to me, like that might have been written by a man who would have preferred to be somewhere else.
Last Sunday morning, in the shadows of the rubble of church buildings, Christians gathered for worship in Haiti. The Church, the Body of Christ rose as Jesus had on the third day. Not one of those worshippers thought it was a sacrifice or burden to gather for worship in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving.
We should worship as if we weren’t allowed to.