Long ago, before television, when I was a boy, our family got ready for Sunday by taking a Saturday night bath. The routine was practiced, I think, to instill in us children that Sunday was special. The best preparation for meeting God on Sunday was to be clean and composed in body, soul, and mind. You wore your best clothes to church in those days. Sundays had a festive, happy feel, like quietly celebrating somebody’s birthday or anniversary.
In the 1960s many adopted the casual habit. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love”—not by how well-dressed we are. God loves long-haired hippies too, according to Billy Graham.
These days, attitudes about attending worship are quite relaxed. Pretty much anything goes in clothing and haircuts. The American shower has overtaken the European bath in the church circles I know. A shower is quicker and more efficient than sitting in your dirty bathwater.
So how do you make Sunday a special day when our culture no longer recognizes the first day of the week as “the best” but only as part of “the weekend”? If we set apart Sunday as a “holy” day, it easily loses relevance for daily life—except as a break. And a cottage by the lake is a more attractive escape from the fast pace of work. On the other hand, if Sunday becomes indistinct from the other days of the week, a liturgical worship service with a set pattern can seem obsolete.
In the Reformational tradition of the church, expositing God’s Word to build up the faithful and celebrating the eucharist is central to Sunday worship. At Sunday worship, the church is not doing evangelism but is liturgically rooting God’s children and anybody present in the riches of God’s Word—its warnings, its comforts, and its directives for reconciling worldly culture back to God.
So I have a very practical proposal for making Sunday worship both special and integral to our weekday life: do not come to worship with a bathed body and a blank mind, but come primed to hear the biblical passage, which has been declared beforehand.
This means the pastor puts in writing at least a week ahead of time what Scripture she or he intends to preach from so that the congregation can deepen themselves in the text and the context of passage. Then, after the requisite post-service coffee, young and old can have a free-for-all discussion of the sermon, the music chosen, and the liturgical sense of the Sunday for the coming week, under supervision of the ruling elders.
That way, God willing, every one of the congregated worshippers takes part in maturing Jesus Christ’s body into a robust, biblically informed, active, daily faith.