“For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” -John 3:16
Last Wednesday, we had our final midweek Lenten worship service for the year. We’ve used the same order of worship for the whole service each week, even down to the spoken parts of the liturgy. Those spoken parts of the liturgy were also used each week when the kids of this congregation gathered for SALT, our faith formation time. Each piece of the liturgy was taken from the words of the Bible. To put it another way, each word we spoke together in our Lenten worship was a word from scripture.
As I was getting ready for Wednesday’s service, greeting people as they came in for worship, one of the younger kids, not yet reading proficiently, came up to me and declared, “God so loved the world that God gave his only Son.” I did not jump for joy, but it was a near miss. John 3:16 was part of our liturgy, and this child had begun to memorize it by being in worship, hearing the readers speak it, and then repeating it back and forth twice a month since September.
I have to tell you, this was my hope all along. One of the ways people learn is by repeating. When a coach teaches an athlete to shoot a free throw, the coach demonstrates the proper technique, corrects errors, and then sets up the athlete to practice, over and over, repeating until the muscles simply know how to shoot a free throw. When a baker learns to bake bread, he has to practice kneading until he knows just the right texture for the dough. While the first few tries may be over- or under-worked, he slowly starts to get a feel for kneading that allows him to get it right every time. When a musician learns to play the violin, she starts with stickers to show her where to hold the strings to make each note. Soon, she doesn’t need to look at the stickers, but knows exactly where each finger belongs. Eventually, she doesn’t need the stickers at all!
We learn what we repeat. It’s true in basketball, baking, playing violin, and worship. It even happens with things we never intended to repeat. Even though I haven’t heard it in years and never tried to learn it, I can still sing the jingle for the liquor store in the town I grew up in all because it played on the radio so often when I was a girl.
All this makes me ask: what am I repeating? What is being repeated around me? Am I paying attention? You might want to ask yourself those questions, too.
Some things are not worth repeating. Other things are so incredibly worthy of being repeated over and over that we can hardly say or do them often enough. For instance: “God so loved the world that God gave his only Son…”
Holy Week, the name we give to the days stretching from Palm Sunday to Easter, is a story worth repeating. It’s a story so compelling that we repeat it every year! We retell the memories recorded for us in the words of the Bible so that they become familiar and well-loved. We repeat words like “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” and “This is my body, this is my blood; do this in remembrance of me,” and “Crucify him!” and “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!” We say them over and over every year because we know that they are important. These words matter. They are worth repeating.
Holy God, you loved the world in such a way that you gave of yourself in order to give me life. Teach me your ways and your words, over and over, until they are as much a part of me as you are. In Jesus’ name, amen.