Church and the Toilet Flush

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Hallelujahs and Amens were ordinary parts of the Sunday morning service in the tiny country church. So was the swish of a flushing toilet. It seems the wall between the restroom and the sanctuary was too thin to arrest the noise. And gastronomical urges had sworn no allegiance to the liturgy's timetable. You gotta go when you gotta go. The high and holy worship. The low and common flush. Two ends of humanity's spectrum. Sharing a common roof.

They used to get under my skin—these everyday disturbances that elbow their way into sacred time. A nursing baby bawling for the breast. A cell phone beeping. A man jostling coins in his pocket. A toilet flushing during the minister's homily.

I've grown to appreciate them for what they are: random reminders that we haul all our humanity into the Lord's house. For all our (very true) talk of the heavenly nature of the Sunday service, the sanctuary is full of earthiness, too. Hungry babies, full bladders, over-stressed mothers, daydreaming teens, old codgers with halitosis. All of us dying in one form or fashion. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, CEOs and farmers eventually democratized by the grave.

"What should I wear to church?" a friend asked me. Truth is, we all wear our worst. The liar wears his pants on fire. The cynic with his "Shit Happens" T-shirt. The shoes we use to trample a neighbor's reputation. The underwear we stripped off in the back seat.

But not only that. Our clothes cover bones wearied by working three jobs to barely scrape by. Hearts shattered by dead-end relationships. Shoulders drooping under the load of shameful secrets we lug everywhere we go.

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Burdened within and without, we cross the threshold into church. We don't leave behind our earthiness, our tragedies, our white-knuckled grip on the last vestige of dignity in our sad lives. It’s all more than we could ever stuff into a trash can. Or flush down a toilet.

But that's why we're here, in the Lord's four walls. He throws wide the door and calls us in to supper. Come on in, all of you. Bring your black eyes and bruised hearts. Bring your criminal records and soiled pasts. Bring your same sex attraction and internet history. Jesus isn't afraid of your sin or your righteousness. His cross is big enough for us all. So is His house.

So we come to this high and holy worship with our low and earthly lives. And there we meet the God who has sat in the gutter with the worst, as well as sat at the right hand of the best. He baptizes the bawling baby, dabs away the tears of the grieving, feeds the famished soul, and tells us all that we can never outrun or out-sin His love.

Whatever we wear to church, He takes it off and slips over our heads a robe white as light, bleached in the blood of the Lamb. We arrive all stained in different ways. We all leave resplendent in the same grace. It’s the grace of a God who mounted the cross to draw us all to Himself. And in Him we discover a heavenly life that fills our earthly lives with meaning, dignity, and hope that outlasts the grave.