RUDE TO GOD
In today’s blog post, I really wanted to talk about how important it is to keep learning about the Faith, since we begin our Fall series of Family Night Dinners and Pathways to Spiritual Growth tonight. I also thought about writing about all the excitement I saw around the various ministries which were on display and recruiting at our Ministry Fair on Sunday. But I just had to address another issue.
Of course, I would normally say doubling the number of people in church is a good thing. And of course a priest is THRILLED to see more people coming to God’s House. The problem was that this past Sunday that doubling happened, but in the middle of the service. Not a few minutes after 10:00, not 5 or 10 minutes after but much closer to a half hour after the service began. And, sadly, it’s pretty typical.
This isn’t the first time I’ve addressed habitual lateness at the Sunday morning Divine Liturgy, but one could only hope it could be the last that I would have to. I’m also not under the misunderstanding that the worst offenders may not be the ones who actually read what I write. I do hope, though, that somehow the awful truth behind what has become normal can penetrate deep into our community and that we may see real change.
Let me say first that I’m not talking about occasional lateness, of which we’re probably all guilty. None of us perfectly plan for unexpected occurrences, and while most of us can work on that, this is not what I’m talking about, as important as this may be. I’m addressing habitual lateness, which is just that–showing up late as the norm rather than the exception. And there are two reasons why habitual lateness is nothing more than abhorrent rudeness, both to God and each other.
RUDE TO GOD
Imagine you have a weekly standard get-together with friends. To make the analogy useful, this is not a casual get together for coffee, but an important time of sharing and caring for each other. Imagine that practically each and every week, right when one of the group members is baring their soul to the others, one of the members once again shows up 10, 20, or even 30 minutes late. If this happened week in and week out would this not clearly be seen as nothing more than rudeness? A few minutes late could be understandable, an occasional tardiness could be comprehensible, but can habitual lateness–no matter what we call it–be anything other than disrespect and rude?
And sadly, this level of disrespect in the church is now considered by some to be the norm. We’ve all heard the jokes about “Orthodox Time ” or “Arab Time” as if these normalize habitual rudeness and make it acceptable, at least when it comes to church. But would a doctor who’s patient always shows up 20 minutes late maintain that patient within their practice? Would a student who always shows up 15 minutes after the beginning of class be allowed to do so without consequence and remain in the class? Would an employee who routinely shows up 20 to 30 minutes late be allowed to keep their job? Would a member of a country club who habitually arrives 15 minutes after their tee time allowed to keep making them? We know the answer to these questions, yet somehow assume the same level of habitual tardiness is acceptable, and that the respect given to doctors and fellow golfers isn’t important enough to give to God.
RUDE TO EACH OTHER
I give credit to our regularly prompt parishioners who rarely complain about the disruption of those who regularly arrive late. But let’s not let their charity for their brothers and sisters mask the truth–habitual lateness to the Liturgy is rude both to God AND to those who have arrived on time. Just like our late-arrivers, our more prompt brethren have families and homes to deal with, unexpected situations that arise and a myriad of other things they can try to squeeze in before heading off to church. Instead, they make it a priority to be conscious of the time and to be in their place BEFORE the service begins, so as not to insult their God NOR be a distraction to their fellow worshipers. Having done so, they have to endure–as a weekly, regular occurrence–the disruption of people arriving late, often greeting people in the middle of the worship service, and causing a distraction as they find their places, all in the middle of a time that is supposed to be dedicated to the worship of the Creator and united prayer to Him. Let’s be honest and clear: habitual tardiness is rudeness and disrespect to God, but also to the fellow parishioners who have to endure the distraction that we impose on others when we arrive late.
I have spoken of this as a priority since my arrival as the parish priest of this community over four years ago and have seen only minimal improvement, which pales in comparison to the ongoing, communal insult to God and each other that has been treated as our norm. Why, some may ask, is this so important that I would keep bringing it up? The answer is an understanding what the Divine Liturgy really is. This past Sunday, we held our annual Ministry Fair where we encouraged all of our members to more deeply commit themselves to the work God has given to us as the Church, His hands and feet in this world. As important is all of these ministries are, the Divine Liturgy is our MOST important. The word literally means “the common work of the people.” It is not common in the sense of “ordinary.” On the contrary, it is the Divine Liturgy, the work of the people that is holy, just as God is holy. Of all of our united work, none is more significant than the common work of the Liturgy in which we accept God’s invitation to ascend to Heaven and experience His Heavenly Kingdom, while remaining right here on Earth. When we treat something so sacred with the sacrilege of habitual tardiness, we profane all that is–or should be–holy.
I don’t believe for a moment that any of this is done intentionally, but it’s time to let our lack of intention excuse our lack of attention. On this day, September 11th, 2019, we remember that horrific day 18 years ago when among many other things, we experienced our absolute dependence upon our God. Expressions of faith skyrocketed that week and Sunday, September 16th, 2011, was the most well attended Sunday in decades in churches from sea to shining sea. So perhaps on a day that we are reminded of our dependence upon our God, we can resolve to reflect that reverence in our actions, especially the principle of our actions in which we seek our God’s blessing, the weekly Sunday Divine Liturgy. We can–if we use the free choice that our God lives and died to give us–make this change, right now.
The solution to this problem is incredibly simple: if we are habitually late, we can honestly admit to how late we typically are, and simply move back our Sunday morning routine by that many minutes. It really is a simple as that. When I am distracted by the incredibly consistent late arrivals of the same people practically every week, we can admit that if our lateness is that consistent, our promptness can be as well. If that doesn’t work, we simply keep moving back or schedule five minutes a week until we are regularly arriving with enough time to be settled at our places, and ready to join together with our brothers and sisters in proclaiming blessed of “the Kingdom of the Father and the Son of the Holy Spirit.” Because it really is a blessed opportunity for us to be there and ready to proclaim its blessedness.
At the core of our Christian faith is the ability to change while we still have breath in our lungs. So let’s all “commend ourselves and each other and all our life to Christ our God.” This means maybe we need to change, or gently ask a close family member or friend to do so. We are blessed to live lives of honor and respect for our God, and for those He has given to us as Brothers and Sisters in Him. We CAN repent of our habitual lateness and rudeness, and enjoy the blessedness of our joyous repentance!