When I'm late to church, people turn around and stare at me with frowns of disapproval. I get the clear message that I'm not as responsible as they are. When I'm late to Alcoholics Anonymous, the meeting comes to a halt, and everyone jumps up to hug and welcome me. They realize that my lateness may be a sign that I almost didn't make it. When I show up, it proves that my desperate need for them won out over my desperate need for alcohol.
I have to admit, I sometimes get irritated when people are late for our Sunday worship gatherings (or Small Groups, dinners or whatever). For some it seems like a lack of discipline or concern for others. But Yancey makes a good point.
I often fail to recognize just how much of a struggle it is for some people to overcome their brokenness and seek out help through the church. And if anyone ought to be welcoming, it should be the followers of Jesus.
This reminds me of the parable in Luke 18: 9-14 where two men prayed very different prayers. One was confident of his righteousness and looked down on everyone else. He prayed that he not become "like them." The other could not even raise his eyes for shame. He simply asked for mercy. Jesus said it was this second man who went home justified.
Sunday worship gatherings (or "services") are odd things. On the one hand, they are meant to be FOR God. It is a time for people of faith to come together to worship and praise Him. Yet, could it be that the greatest form of praise we can give is to bow before him in our awkward brokenness and ask for mercy? Is God impressed by our 'dressing up and doing something for him'; or is it our humble confession that we desperately need him and his church, and that sometimes we don't even know how to go about proper worship, that is more pleasing in His eyes?
I think we have a fairly welcoming church, but I pray that we might become even moreso. May we celebrate the late-arrivals, and most of all, the One who welcomes all of us as we ask, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."