I, and by relation, the church I serve, get a great deal of unsolicited mail. We do not ask
for this mail, we never signed up for this mail; it just shows up. Some of it comes weekly, others come quarterly, and still others yearly. But make no mistake about it, it comes.
As time allows, I flip through the catalogs and magazines before placing them in their proper recycle containers. Every now and then there is an idea or an ad that catches my eye as to something that could be done in the future in some manner. But most of the time, I just flip, throw and forget about it.
But one thing did catch my attention and it still lingers in the back of my mind: it was an advertisement for Back to Church Sunday on September 18th. The ad boasted that 10,000 churches were already signed up to participate in this day, when all efforts would be made to bring people back to church.
The seemingly random date of September 18th is not all that odd considering that that Sunday would be the third Sunday in September, when schools across the nation will be back in session, and Summer will for all intents and purposes be over. No longer will families be on vacation, no longer will they be skipping church to go to the lake or the beach or the county fair; so September 18th would be the logical date on which to welcome everyone back and to restart Sunday School, Bible class, midweek catechism classes and all of the other programs that the church involves itself in.
The truth of the matter is that most people, for better or for worse, take the Summer off from church; and for better or for worse, they will come back in the fall, regardless of whether or not a church participates in Back to Church Sunday or not. As a matter of fact, celebrating this particular day would only encourage the notion that all things church stop
in the Summer, and would only give permission to those who stuck around all Summer to take next Summer off to.
But the hypocrisy of the day aside, it is important to note that there are many who will not be back to church on September 18th. Many, who have not been to church for years, will once again not be back for the annual start-up of the church programs. Some of these were confirmed in the faith and have not been back since; others left sometime during their college years; others have moved and never found a church home; and others just do not come at all.
Sadly, these people will not be back just because the date on the calendar says that they should be. Nor will they be back because of some new program being conducted. For them, Back to Church Sunday is just another random Sunday when they will get up and not hear the Word of the Lord, not receive the forgiveness of sins, not be reminded of their baptism, and not be fed the Lord’s body and blood.
They will only come back when the Word of Law convicts them; when their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ come to them and speak the Word to them; when the Holy Spirit at work in their hearts calls them to repent of their sins and receive forgiveness.
These prodigal children of God should remind us of The Prodigal Son, who was not waiting for a date on the calendar to come around before he could return to his father’s house; no, the moment he looked around at his pitiful state and realized the folly of his ways, he repented and returned home seeking forgiveness. And when his father saw him coming, he ran to him and greeted him and forgave him and restored him to his place of honor.
To those who repent and return to their Father’s house, they too will be restored to the place of honor that they had previously left behind: the place where they are children of God, heirs of His promises of everlasting life.
And the Lord will welcome them at any time, even if it is not Back to Church Sunday.