This coming Sunday has lots of names – One can call it the 2nd Sunday of February. One can call it the 5th Sunday after Epiphany. One can even call it the 2nd Sunday before Lent. Whatever you call it, it will be a wonderful opportunity for the People of God to come together to worship and glorify God. In doing so, we will also have a chance to encounter old friends, meet new friends, hear and sing beautiful music, listen to and contemplate the Word of God, and most importantly, unite ourselves with the living Lord sacramentally through the celebration of the Holy Communion.
While in Malta recently, I had a short conversation about Anglicanism with the tour-guide who drove me around the island of Gozo in a jeep. He was telling me about how 96% of the people are Roman Catholic, but his voice faded a bit in sadness when he said that many of the young people did not strictly follow Sundays anymore as Days of Obligation. (Those were his words: Sunday is a Day of Obligation). I told him that that is also true for many young people in Germany. He knew that I am a priest so he asked me, what about my Anglican church? Do people still keep Sunday as a Day of Obligation?
I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I couldn’t say my people keep Sundays as a Day of Obligation, nor could I say we do not. As far as I know, Anglicans in general do not use the concept ‘Obligation’ to describe our relationship with Sunday worship. All of my life, at least, and please know that I started attending Anglican worship when I was a mere 3 months old – all my life, at least, the word obligation has had a feel to it which seems negative. My natural rebelliousness gets quite riled up at the thought that I am obligated to do something. It makes me feel that I am being forced or coerced into doing something that I would otherwise not want to do. Yuck!
Please, I beg you, never let yourself think of your relationship with God through worship become an obligation. Rather think of it in the terms I used with the tour-guide on Gozo. I told him that I always encourage my parishioners to think of Sunday as a wonderful day of opportunity, a day of privilege, a day of worth looking forward to… a day in which we rejoice doing those things which bring us love, mercy, grace, and joy.
I can hardly wait until Sunday, the 2nd Sunday before Lent… or whatever you want to call it… what a privilege it will be to be part of the community gathered to worship in a way we simply cannot do alone. Each and every Sunday is a Christian’s highest privilege, never a mere duty… and certainly never an obligation.
In just a few hours I will be boarding a German Wings flight to Hansastadt Hamburg…. as Dean, I have been invited to come and make a presentation at St. Thomas a Beckett Church, the oldest Anglican church in Europe outside the British/Irish isles. For over 400 years, it has been a witness to Anglicanism on the continent. I will return Thursday evening. So do not worry if I am not answering my landline. Just so you know.