order out of order

We had a baptism the other week. Lots of fun to anticipate and to plan toward. But the Thursday before that Sunday, we had a staff member go in for an emergency appendectomy (is there another kind? I mean that’s not really a surgery you ever plan, is it? Odd to think of something that’s always an emergency!). So before the bulletin was printed, I said, “Simply switch me into everything he was supposed to do in the service.” Probably should have thought through that a bit more carefully with the implications of a baptism in mind!

There was just absolutely no way I was going to make the prayer placed in the order of worship right after the baptism (I was in a robe chest deep in water in the baptistery for the baptism and had to exit the baptistery, dry off and change clothes before going back out on the chancel at the front of the church). I thought about (when that realization struck me on Sunday morning)—I thought about simply doing that prayer from the baptistery, but that would have delayed me getting on out of the water and getting changed. So, during the Words of Welcome at the beginning of the service, I pointed out the problem, had a prayer, and told the congregation to remember it had already happened when we got to that point in the service.

Thing is, removing that prayer left only a hymn between the baptism and the sermon (and a three verse hymn, at that!)—a fact of order which did not occur to me until, undressed and dripping, I was listening to the congregation singing that hymn with the sinking suspicion that I was next. I wasted a few precious seconds double-checking the bulletin—just to make sure. Sure enough!

So it was that during the last of the three verses of the hymn, I was scrambling back there in the changing room, weighing on the one hand all I had left to do to get ready as I had planned to, and, on the other, what I could minimally and decently get away with.

And I rushed out of the changing room, down the hall and onto the chancel without my robe, without my stole, without my wireless microphone, with the top button of my shirt unbuttoned, my tie loose, both shoes untied and one pant leg actually tucked into a sock (an unfortunate fact of which I remained totally unaware until after the service was completely over).

None of which mattered. Because, of course, it wasn’t about me. The Music Minister was, in fact, prepared to have the choir sing the Anthem early (out of order) when I burst onto the chancel. It’s not that the order has to be followed absolutely anyway. It’s not even that the congregation wouldn’t have managed just fine regardless.

So, in that dressing room, along with, on the one hand, that assessment of what I would ideally do to be “prepared” and, on the other, what there was actually time for, there was also amusement. And along with the amusement, there was the sheer fun of it … no, more than that … the joy—that is the absolute assurance that when we celebrate baptism and prayer in our worship, the sharing of the word in Scripture, song, and sermon—when we worship in community with integrity, there’s really not too much we can do to mess that up.

I’ve had that sense on high and holy occasions: Christmas Eve, weddings … and funerals, for that matter—those times when you really just have to get out of the way and let it happen—when all you really have to do is make sure you don’t get in the way … and how important not to underestimate our capacity for doing just that! But that sense I’ve had on high and holy occasions is equally true each week. For our respect and our appreciation and our intent is for more than the form and the appearance of our worship—as important as they are.

To put it another way, if something disrupting the order of worship disrupts our worship, then no matter how important and meaningful that order is to us, it has become too important, and the disrupting offers us the opportunity to remember—to rethink—to reaffirm—what is most important—which is an amusing, fun—joyful fact to celebrate contemplating an already soon to be more out of order of worship, dripping wet, in a dressing room behind the chancel you’re supposed to be out on.


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