Many pastors have been in this situation. It is nearing the end of the service, yet there are still five pews left to come up for communion. The pastor, from the chancel, looks at the clock in the back of the sanctuary. You know, the clock. The one that was put there as a passive aggressive note to the pastor to keep those sermons a reasonable length. The pastor awaits the next group of hungry sinners, and his eyes widen, sweat begins to drip from his pores, and his heart sinks into his stomach. The big hand stands vertical hover over the “12.” There is still the post communion prayer, the benediction, and of course a five verse closing hymn followed by announcements. This service will go well over an hour and an unspoken sacred rule will be broken. Watches will be checked. Pews will begin to move from the rustling of anxious people in their seats. This service will not be remembered for God meeting man in Word in Sacrament, but instead for going over an hour by ten minutes. Maybe this is a touch dramatic, or maybe it isn’t. A cultural norm which rules over the church in America is that, the one hour worship service is one of the sacred cows that ought not be sacrificed. Or maybe it should.
The one hour church service has been the standard as long as I can remember, and certainly even longer than that. Ever since I remember I have heard the jokes about worship being done in time to get people home for kickoff or whatever cultural event was going on that day. We joke about the length of sermons, about how long communion takes, and how many verses of a hymn to include. All out of fear of going over that sacred time of one hour, and if it can be a shorter service, even better. Now sure, there are certainly numerous reasons for this cultural norm that has had a grip on the church for at least the last fifty years, but underlying all of them is something that is apparent, and rather simple. As a culture, we don’t make time for holy things.
Of course, this is a far deeper discussion than is afforded in the brevity of a single article. There is still a discussion to be had and one that ought to be started. This is far more about what is deemed holy than the time spent on it. But, I would argue that the amount of time spent on a particular thing would reflect a subjective holiness. That is, professional football games seem to be holier than the preaching of God’s Word. Lunch plans are holier than the heavenly feast of the Lord’s Supper. Yet, the things that God has made holy are not the things that we deem as holy. But what else is new? We have not fallen far from the tree of Adam and Eve. (Get it?) We will decide what is holy, what is worth our time, and how much it is worth. Yet, God doesn’t care about what we decide, He has decided. He calls His people not to neglect the things He has deemed holy. Even more so He calls us to die to ourselves, for the things He has deemed holy are life giving. The things we have deemed holy give little to nothing in return.
Of course, this is a much deeper discussion, one better had over a pint and a dram. Also, I am not advocating for church services to run for two or three hours, but instead to be content with that sermon that runs a little longer. Find comfort in the Lord’s Supper, even if it adds ten minutes. Sing loudly and boldly even if the hymn has eight verses. Take in the holy mysteries of God, and realize it is okay if you miss kickoff, it is okay if lunch is delayed, it is okay if you are a little bit behind schedule. Holy things are worth it. They give you life. They give you salvation. They give you joy. Take time for holy things, the things that God has deemed holy. I would even argue that it makes everything else that is good even better.