“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together…” (Ps. 133:1)
Setting up for the Journey to Bethlehem cut into my Sunday nap.
I realize I risk sounding like the lazy parson, but it’s true. We have our routines and mine is that after worship services are over and I have shaken the last hand at the front door of the sanctuary, I head home for lunch and a nap. I tell people it’s for emotional and physical recovery, from all the spiritual froth I have created on Sunday mornings. Or maybe, I just like a nap. I want nothing more than to close the bedroom door and hide from my congregation.
But this past Sunday I went nap-less, and walked out of the parsonage less than an hour after I had arrived, grumbling about the endless demands of being a pastor. I thought to myself, I’ll make an appearance, shake a few hands, show I care, and then get back into my car and go home for the shut-eye I was missing.
Then some of the men, with their pre-pageant grizzly beards, called to me and asked my opinion on the staging of the tomb and the cross. What were my thoughts…” closer together or farther apart?” Another fellow drifted into our discussion and said he could use someone tall to help hold up the roof of a set while others assembled the walls. I volunteered. And so it went, until I was sitting on the tailgate of an old pickup, riding through the city and putting out directional signs to our event.
It wasn’t until I returned to my empty house that I realized thoughts of being worn-out and needing a nap had left me. The truth is, I have been a little lonely lately and I needed fellowship more than sleep.
During the early years of the Third Reich, when the Gestapo was imprisoning dissenting voices from the church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer assembled an underground seminary and wrote a small book titled, Life Together. He begins with a line from the psalter, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together.” (Ps. 133:1).
Bonhoeffer had been suffering from isolation, debilitating enough that he felt he was losing his agency against the insidious darkness overcoming his nation. When he calls together men who, despite the prevailing attitudes, still want to be trained as Lutheran pastors, he feels his spirit lift. He writes in the same book, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength…” His need for long naps subsides. Eventually the seminary was discovered and shut down, but Bonhoeffer leaves with the courage to take the harsh road ahead of him.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, a report ran in the newspapers stating that once again, life expectancy in the United States has dropped, a downward curve that has not been seen since the early 1900s. Last year death from suicide and drug overdose were the highest it’s been in 50 years. What’s driving it? Doctors, who work for the Center of Disease Control blame a more nebulous cause than the hard-medical science we are accustomed to hearing from them: hopelessness and isolation.
We speak of salvation as though it is a word that is out of date, a term that churches should regard as off-putting and antiquated, but I can’t help but see the drop in church participation related to the hopelessness and isolation that is causing men and women to make the regrettable decision to take their lives.
Jesus was clear, our mission is to seek out and save the lost, saving folks for the here and now as much as for the hereafter. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together.” Christian fellowship takes away the hopeless and isolation. It is our salvation. In time, we’d rather be awake than sleep the afternoon away.
I want others to have what I had on Sunday, and thankfully you do too.