When it comes to television, I’m a binge-watcher. I can’t help myself. It matters little whether it’s six episodes or 16; whether the narrative is tightly constructed or interrupted a dozen times over by subplots; whether it’s the stuff of reality or out of this world. I am the target audience to whom streaming services cater. Prior commitments or daily responsibilities be damned. I have had to train myself to avoid watching altogether unless I know time is on my side. Because once the story has begun, I’m all in. Even if it’s poorly written; even if it’s ridiculously predictable; even if I would have designed it differently. I like to see a story’s full arc unfold.
This commitment to narrative is also why I’m so stubbornly loyal to the church. Because the full arc unfolds every time the congregation gathers.
Last week, some of our newest members brought their newest child – just three weeks old! – to worship. And as some of our more senior adults hovered overhead and cooed about fingers and toes and wisps of hair, a first grader wormed her way through all the adult legs, patted the infant on the cheek and whispered, “Hello, new friend,” before running off to play freeze tag on the lawn.
Last spring, one of our graduating high schoolers played a clarinet solo as the postlude to Youth Sunday. It was a length piece. And when it was over, it wasn’t just their parents who leapt to their feet and applauded and laughed holy laughter with tear-filled eyes. It was the whole sanctuary.
Last month, a parent texted me from the kindergarten drop-off line. “When I dropped [my son] off,” she wrote, “I said ‘I love you!’ and he said back, ‘Yes, mama. But remember: when we go separate ways, we say, ‘Go in peace! Peace be with you!’” Because when we share peace on Sundays, adults shake hands with children just as sincerely as they do fellow adults, and most of our kids have grown accustomed to greeting the whole room as they make their way up front for our word with children. They know they aren’t just guests playing in an adult space. It’s their space, too.
Last summer, our Vacation Bible School looked like a one-room schoolhouse, with everyone from 2 up through 92 years of age in the same space for the same lesson and the same activities. It wasn’t seamless. It took some generosity of spirit and a brilliantly talented pair of keynote speakers, one with a specialization in teaching adults and the other equally skilled in teaching children. It was worth every minute of planning when the next Sunday the children greeted adults by name and adults bent down for hugs from their new friends.
Last Wednesday, one of our longest-tenured, deeply beloved church members died in the early morning hours. Later that night, I played games with third and fourth graders on the lawn. One of them mentioned I looked a little sad. I explained why. I later learned that little girl asked her family to say “a thank you prayer” for “all of the older people who helped make the church my home” as part of their bedtime routine.
We don’t always get it right, but the church may be one of the last places where the lives of all ages end up intertwined together. Where people choose to take responsibility for helping raise one another and look out for one another. We make important promises at baptism and we take them seriously. Those promises hold well past childhood. They hold us all the way up until the end, when we, like all the saints before us, will from our labors rest.
You can’t binge-watch a life, at least not while living it. Life insists upon unfolding one day at a time. At church, the shared story of all of our lives together, from the youngest up through the oldest, well, that’s the story worth paying attention to. This is where we see how true it is that the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.