When the subject of worship comes up, preachers and musicians often want to debate the merits of traditional versus contemporary, casual versus formal. Wrong debate! I think we miss the point. Worship is meant to be an opportunity to come before God. Worship leaders should not be there to show off their talents as much as to help us find a connection with God. Worship is a uniquely human response to God’s amazing gift of grace. Sometimes, things don’t always work out as planned.
Rev. Ronna L. Swartz from Kenbridge, Virginia was preparing to lead a communion service for the leadership team of an upcoming Emmaus Walk. Holy Communion is always an important part of Emmaus and she wanted to do her part as a minister to make the service meaningful and inspiring. Several people on the team experienced some particularly difficult situations so Rev. Swartz wanted to offer God’s hope in the midst of their hardship.
Her Scripture reading came from Psalm 56: You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. (Verse 8)
Ronna said, “For me, this verse is a comforting reminder of God’s love during the tears. God feels my pain – knows your struggles – understands our sorrows.”
Ronna then picked up the chalice holding the grape juice, symbolizing the atoning blood of Christ and served each person on the team. After setting it back on the table, she turned to face the group and brushed her hand against the chalice just enough to knock the full cup to the carpeted floor where it shattered, splattering grape juice everywhere. “Every preacher’s worst nightmare!” said Ronna. The worship service was momentarily forgotten. “I felt as though I could cry my own bottle of tears!”
The team members were stunned. For several long seconds, nobody moved; nobody spoke.
Despite our best efforts, worship is still an all too human response to God’s impact on our lives. Musicians make mistakes. Preachers babble on and on. Babies cry at inopportune times. We could stay at home and watch a better performance on television. Why should we commit ourselves to worship at a local church? What difference does it make?
For the answer as the late Paul Harvey would say, we turn to the rest of the story.
The team members were stunned. For several long seconds, nobody moved; nobody spoke. Then everyone sprang into action. Three or four people cleaned the carpet while another collected the broken chalice pieces. Someone else went for the container of grape juice while another cleaned the white-lace tablecloth. Soon the rug and the tablecloth were spot free and the embarrassing moment forgotten — or was it?
The point of worship has never been about polished entertainment but rather to enable you to respond to God’s desire to be in an intimate relationship. At anytime, God can reach out and touch someone within a worship service maybe during a quiet time of prayer, through a song or a sermon. Even a flawed worship service can be used by God to teach a life-changing lesson.
When the Emmaus team met again, there was clearly no stain on the carpet or the tablecloth but rather than forget Rev. Swartz’s embarrassing moment, the group decided to honor the memory of how everyone pulled together to help their minister and friend. On the table beside the new chalice were the broken pieces of the old. A group that once struggled now gloried in their newfound confidence of knowing God loved them and would see them through any struggle, any tragedy.
One member of the group collected the broken pieces of the old chalice and had them made into jewelry. One broken piece of the chalice was given to each member of the group as a distinctive reminder of what God can do with the broken pieces of our lives.
Ronna Swartz concluded by saying, “I am wearing that chalice fragment today. I learned that the very brokenness our group shared actually turned out to be the glue, which spiritually bonded us together. Is it not the brokenness of Jesus Christ on a cross that not only brings us to our knees but also enables us to feel loved, forgiven and whole?”
Sometimes, in worship as in life, things don’t always work out as planned. Sometimes God makes them better!
Next: Why so many no longer attend worship?