We are planning to have “company” this weekend, which is an archaic way of saying that we’ve invited some friends over for dinner. What it really means is that we need to straighten up around this house, and hide the clutter, and clean the floors, and pick up the dog toys. We also need to decide what to have for dinner!
The decluttering and straightening up around the house business is serious business. This takes on a level of importance that seems to strike at the core of our competence and worthiness. If we can’t get this house to look decent for these guests, then what kind of hosts (and humans) are we?! There seems to be ever so much at stake with getting one’s house in order! Good grief.
So, instead of picking up, cleaning, and tossing things, I’m writing.
Last week I met with a patient who asked me to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. He was told he would get to go home the next day, and that’s exactly what he wanted. He wasn’t sure God was hearing his prayers, so he asked that I help with that. We prayed to thank God for this news, in hope that he would indeed get to go home.
One of the reasons he was so very eager to get out of the hospital was because he wanted to get back to work. His work, he explained, is “caring for the house of the Lord.” He’s the church custodian, and he knew that if he could go home the next day, he would be able to do his work in time for the worshipping faithful to gather for services.
He told me about caring for “the house of the Lord” (which seems like another archaic saying, but certainly connotes respect and reverence for the church building). He not only cleans the inside, from the basement to the sanctuary, pews to bathrooms, to sacristy and candle holders and pulpit furniture, but he takes care of the outside, too. He said it is a privilege to take care of “the Lord’s house.”
A number of years ago, I met another such church custodian. Her husband had been in an awful car accident. She came to the hospital from her work, which she said was “caring for the house of the Lord.” She, too, spoke this phrase with such reverence for the church building that I was in awe of her.
It would be ever so easy to recite the stuff one picks up after messy people come through a place. Either of these church custodians could tell me stories, I’m sure, about the sloppiness or carelessness of people “who should know better.”
All I heard was respect for the work they do, for the place of worship they care for with such dignity. And they conveyed an eagerness to get back to this meaningful, serious work, so that those of us who “go up to the house of the Lord” might be able to worship with awe and trembling.
I’m trembling a bit at the sacredness of these two custodians. They are holy people, preparing a place for a meeting between God and the faithful ones. There’s a lot at stake in these sanctuaries. Perhaps even more is at stake in making our hearts ready to encounter the God who so wants to make a home in us.
These two servants give so much significance to my reading of Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord!” I know that God’s house is in order, but hearing these custodians speak of their sacred work reminds me of the incredible ways God appears in our menial activities, even cleaning.
This reverence is not about the house itself, of course. Our home, and God’s house, are places we set apart with intention. The intention is not to give attention to whether or not the floor’s been vacuumed or the piles of magazines or hymnals are out of place. We come to the house, ours, God’s…to engage with “all the company of heaven in singing God’s glorious praise, singing, ‘holy, holy, holy.’” We feast together, from tastes of bread and wine to whatever it is that our own menu turns out to be. I hope I can be in a position to say, “come, for all things are now ready.”