It is the last day of March and I stand on my friend’s back porch eating lamb and asparagus and corn pudding. I’m talking to a lovely woman, whom I have only just met.
When I ask if they attended church today, on this drizzly Easter Sunday, she tells me that she and her family did not. With a guilty grin she says they were “bad” this year.
I wonder what she means, exactly, by “bad”. I wish I could ask her what it takes to be “good”. I hear in her words the echoes of so many other voices, and I feel God’s great love for His children.
She tells me about her lovely memories of church as a child. She confides that she might want community, but really she doesn’t have the energy to seek it out. She admits that the hypocrisy of church leaders and the awful false-happiness of church culture have pressed her away a bit. There is peace for her in the thought that maybe church is not so important after all.
She seems so sure I understand how she feels- and I do. But I just want to cry. I want to apologize. I want to explain that her experience has given her the worst of church and very little of the Christ who came to love her, who died to give her new life.
She wonders aloud about why I go to church. What is it, she asks, that draws me into a place she finds foreign and not particularly useful?
I begin to tell her that the church is the Bride of Christ; that we are many parts of one body, that we look different and serve Him uniquely, but together we are meant to love the Him and the world as He has loved us: sacrificially.
I intend to tell her that I go to church because I love God and love to worship Him, because He has saved me from my own anger and self-rejection, and He is the source of my hope and joy. I long to explain that we, His church, His bride- we make a place for His love to rest in the lives of His people.
But we are interrupted by her friends who have just arrived.
I swallow my words about how I, too, am nauseated by that fake niceness. My heart burns with the truth that hypocrisy is unacceptable. And I wish she could taste in my words the delicious flavor of authentic community, the kind where people completely unlike *you* come to feel like family. It’s the place where a college student, a dreamer, a homeless woman, a tired mother, a broken family, an artist, a man who has lost hope, and a brilliant intellectual with a PhD and a life plan are all on equal ground: sinners saved by grace through faith.
I ache with this information as the party progresses and my chance to share has passed.
A light rain falls and there is confetti from cascarones on my shoulders that run with color on my skin. The children have sack races and I wonder how many many hundreds and thousands of people are racing away from church, seeking God anywhere but there.
I remember the days in my past when church leaders fell flat and lifeless, full of sin. I think of the tears that I have cried when well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ have missed the mark and struck me with their own sinful tendencies. I remember a time when I wondered if we all could ever be more than a complete mess inside the walls of a church building.
But once you are part of a working, loving, Christ-reaching group of believers, united in faith and mission, committed to one another and to fulfilling God’s call, you know it is possible. In fact, it’s brilliant.
When all the churchy silliness is set down and we pick up our sin and kneel together before a holy God, that’s when church becomes holy proof of God’s love.
Jesus is worthy of our time, our attention, our effort, our forgiveness, our hope, and our best. And He is coming for His Bride, for all of us, the church.
I don’t know when and I’m not completely sure how. But I know He promised to return, and that we should be getting ready.
All of this is what draws me to church, and at its center is simply love; God’s love for us, our love for God, the love I share with the people of my church.
I wish I could have told that sweet woman the whole story on Easter Sunday. Maybe I’ll see her again someday. I certainly hope I do.