Forget, for a moment, any lectures on poor church attendance. If you are reading this before the service, then you are here! Why preach to the choir?
But even we who do come to God’s house may find ourselves doing it out of a dogged sense of duty, or at least a family habit. Maybe we read a chapter or two in the Bible each day as one more time-bandit on our to-do list.
It can all become something we are doing for God. All the joy gets sucked out of it. All the while we worship or pray or turn the pages of our Bible, our eye is on the clock and our mind is on the next obligation we have to meet. We walk away tired, unrefreshed…not because the word carries no power to recharge our batteries, but because we have not caught the spirit of Mary of Bethany who sat at the Savior’s feet with thirsty ears and a hungry heart for the one thing needful. Ah…what was the Lord’s beatitude? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”
Psalm 1 says that the righteous person’s “delight is in the law of the Lord,” that is, in God’s Word, “and on His law he meditates day and night.” The worship and the word, the gospel and the sacraments – are a delight, not a duty. So we “meditate” on it day and night.
What comes to your mind when you hear that word “meditate?” Some Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged on the ground, saying: “Mmmmmmm?” Some new-age mysticism that contemplates one’s own thoughts, or analyzes one’s own psychological belly-button? Some higher connection with God that passes itself off as “Christian” meditation?
All true Christian meditation meditates on the word of God. Period. There is no higher communion with, or connection to God than to pay attention to what He sets before us in word and sacraments. Anything else, anything less, is pretentious piety and self-centered posturing.
Something else about that word “meditate.” “Meditate” is really too tame of a word. The word can mean to sort of mumble over a Bible passage, to slow down and say it out loud. As a matter of fact, the prophet Isaiah uses this same Hebrew word for “meditate” for how a lion “growls” over its prey. Think of the hungry lion chewing with contented growls over his catch on the Serengeti plain of Africa. Think of your dog gnawing on his bone, savoring and enjoying it. This is what it means to “meditate” on the word of God. You come here to God’s house each week, famished, the breath of life beaten out of you, hungry of heart…and then, as the Lord told Ezekiel the prophet, and John the apostle in the book of Revelation: “Take this book and eat it!”
The ancient church fathers picked up on those visions and wrote the old prayer which says: “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them…” Maybe we understand this picture better than we think. When someone is really excited about a subject, we say: “He really eats that up!” Or we talk about enthusiastic readers devouring books. Jesus pictures faith itself in terms of eating in His famous sermon on the Bread of Life.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” is not about us doing something for God. It is about God serving us. Gottesdienst is what our fathers called the German church service – God’s service to us, spreading before us a banquet. Ah…”Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring!” The Third Commandment is simply saying: “Eat up!” The heart of faith simply says: “I can’t get enough!” And…what if it is really true – that we are what we eat?