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Pastors, I’m praying that the Risen Jesus shows up for you in a significant way as you prepare to lead God’s people in worship this Easter. I pray He shows up every Sunday. Early.
Over the last twenty years of my parish ministry, my response to the question, “How’s attendance at early service?” was always the same. “The usual. Just two.” Rarely spoken aloud, that was the truth, chuckled to myself (and of course, to Jesus). Few people in the church understood how important the worship that happened before the worship really was for our life together.
Over my early years in ministry I came to realize that you can’t preach what you haven’t experienced.
Six o’clock Sunday morning became my most important service of the week. After a quick check of lights, heat and door locks, I’d take my place on the chancel steps. Just me and my Lord. There I would sing with the angels before the throne (okay, there were a few more than two at the service!) I’d read the lessons and text again, and invite the Holy Spirit to speak to me. (Wow. It’s getting crowded in this service!)
Pretty quickly, I’d find my self face down on the carpet. Best place, best time, best posture to get real about the sin in my life. Then rolling onto my back, it was time for grace. “Okay Jesus, I don’t know why you do, but go ahead and love me, right here, right now. I’m not going to argue with You. I don’t deserve it, but I welcome Your grace. Love me. Fill me. Use me.”
Then I’d shut my mouth (and the voice in my head) and simply bask in the undeserved mercy and grace and love of the One who died and rose for me. After that, I prayed some more, and I talked with Jesus about the sermon a bit more. I’d walk through the sanctuary and pray for those who would soon gather.
In thirty years of Sunday mornings, I wasn’t always well prepared to lead worship, especially during those early years. I often poorly managed the balance between Humility (“I am completely unworthy to lead God’s saints in worship!”) and Hubris (“I stand before you today with the very words of the Lord Almighty in my mouth!”) I probably erred about evenly in both directions. But I was at my best for God and His people when the early service went well.
I have no idea what your attendance will be in worship this Sunday. But I am praying for your early service, the one with just two in attendance.
It might be on Saturday night and it might be in your home or your favorite quiet space, but I pray that for you, wherever and whenever it is, it will be just like that Sunday morning at the empty tomb. I pray that through your tears you’ll hear Jesus call you by name, as He called to Mary.
I pray that you’ll marvel at the wonder of the cross and the marvel of the resurrection. And I pray that you’ll greet God’s people as they enter for worship with the same little peaceful smile I wore after my early service. I pray that you’ll speak the gospel as one who has experienced it in a deep, cleansing, renewing way.
Then ready to lead worship, I pray you’ll hear the voice of our Lord with His Sunday morning instruction: “Give ’em heaven!”
Blessed Easter! Thanks for reading.