“And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (v.37)
What is it about the disciples of Jesus Christ that creates this preoccupation with chairs? There is the proverbial, “Somebody is sitting in my pew.” The story of the church matriarch or patriarch who asks the newcomer to move, because the newcomer sits down in the pew that has been occupied by the longtime churchgoer week after week, year after year. There may be no plaque on either end of the pew. There may be no actual family connection to the purchase of the seat in question. But the seasoned church member has no qualms about marching right up to the unsuspecting visitor and pronouncing, “This is my pew. Move!” (Unfortunately, I have witnessed this in at least two different churches. So, no matter how you have heard this ecclesiastical myth, I can assure you it’s real. My guess is it’s about to happen again somewhere in a church near you this Sunday.)
Then there are the endless debates about what types of seats are proper for worship space. Is it necessary to have people sit in pews? Are stand alone chairs okay, as long as they are covered with red or burgundy cushions? Or, can worship really rise up from simple, metal folding chairs?
This is not to overlook the theological debates still going on in some corners of the church on whether or not it is even proper to cushion the seats? Or, if pews have been installed for centuries, is it permissible to cover them with cushions at a later date?
Where are the best seats in your church? From my own quick mental inventory of churches I have known, I would say, most often, the best seats are in the older adult Sunday School rooms. Often the seats in the children’s department are worn, wood, straight-back structures that may have been new when the current older adults were tiny tykes. While I can think of a few churches where this seating arrangement was not the norm, the biggest exception to my sweeping seating generalizations is of course the preacher’s chair (sometimes known as the pastor’s chair or pulpit chair).
Though I have sat on some that could never be called comfortable, usually the preacher’s chair is the largest, most impressive seat housed by the church. There it sits on a raised platform, perhaps to the side of the pulpit, maybe just behind it; often made to resemble a throne, perhaps a small modest throne, but a throne nonetheless. Sometimes I wonder if my own early willingness to explore a call to ministry relates to a church from my childhood where the only cushioned seat was the pastor’s chair. (Ironic, don’t you think, when the preacher is the one who usually spends the most time standing in church?)
If you don’t think seats are important in church, just go into your church sometime this week and change four or five chairs from one room to another. (When the Trustees hunt you down, please don’t mention me.) My guess is, for most of us, seats are so important to our Christian faith that we don’t realize how much importance we assign to them until suddenly we realize there is one out of place!
The news is all this concern about seats is not new; in fact, it’s biblical. We encounter it among some of the first followers of Jesus. The gospel of Mark tells us that one day, James and John come to Jesus and say, “We want to sit at your left and right hand.” (Mark 10:35-45). There it is, ‘Can we go ahead and claim our pew?’ ‘Hey, we want to get some of the good seats.’
Well, I said it was news, not that it was Good News, because Jesus is not too impressed with this concern about seats. In fact, Jesus turns the focus from sitting to serving. He says the goal is not having the best seat but serving anyone you can.
Jesus not only calls into question our concern with who gets the best seat, Jesus questions why we are concerned about being still. He says,, “My disciples need to be busy, active, serving. Don’t worry about your seat, worry about your service.