Is church still awe-some?

Many people have a Monday to Friday routine. For decades, my father’s daily routine was nearly inviolable. Get up. Wash. Get dressed. Eat breakfast — always two hard-boiled eggs (with oyster sauce, if you know what that is), coffee, and toast. Go to work. Come home. Wash and change clothes. Eat dinner. Watch television. Sleep.

Repeat as needed until the weekend comes.

For Christians, the routine may include going to church on Sundays. But is it just routine, the same old same-old? Do we do it because we always do it? Or do we do it because we expect to meet God?

As we’ve seen, thousands responded to Peter’s message on Pentecost and were baptized into the booming new group of Jesus followers in Jerusalem. It didn’t take long before they began to fall into a routine:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  (Acts 2:42-43, NRSV)

But how often do we associate routine with “awe”?

The translation above assumes that their sense of awe was the result of the signs and wonders being performed by the apostles. But that’s actually an inference; a more literal translation would be “and” rather than “because.” (The Common English Bible essentially has a period where the NRSV has “because.”)

Does it matter? I believe it does.

We feel awe when we’re faced with the transcendent: the infinite blackness of a clear night sky; the majesty of the Grand Canyon; even a moment of sudden and dramatic insight that reveals a creative solution to a problem that held us captive just seconds before. It’s easy to imagine awe in the presence of miracles, of unmistakable demonstrations of divine power.

But teaching? Fellowship? Breaking bread? Prayer?

That sounds less impressive. It might even sound routine.

And that’s the problem.

To be fair, to this early Christian community — over 3,000 strong — everything probably still had the spiritual version of a new-car smell. The apostles’ teaching no doubt turned some of the people’s previous ideas on their heads. Their fellowship in the name of Jesus established new relationships and challenged old loyalties. Their “breaking of bread,” most likely a reference not just to common meals but to celebrating the Lord’s Supper, continually inserted them back into the story of their Lord’s sacrifice and death. “The prayers” may refer to already established Jewish practices, but now done in light of the fact that God’s promised Messiah had come.

Nothing routine about that. Not for them.

But centuries have passed. What about us?

We sit in church, listening to the sermon; I’ve heard all this before, we may think, and our minds wander. “Fellowship” has come to mean socializing with other believers; but when it stops being fun, or others begin to annoy us, we move on. We take communion dutifully; often, however, we go through the motions with little to no sense of participating in divine history. Our prayers are less communal and more individualized; they have less to do with the worship of God than asking him for favors.

If any of that sounds familiar, then here’s the question: when did we stop thinking of the very existence of the church as a miracle?

Not a routine. An ongoing miracle, held together by the gift of God’s Spirit, that we might be an outpost of the kingdom.

Church should be awe-some.

Participate accordingly.

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