I will confess at the outset that I like to be on time, which for me usually means being early. So this amounts to my rant on a pet peeve. Being punctual means we adhere to arriving at the appointed time when we keep social engagements. It is closely related to etiquette and good manners. When I arrive on time, I’m indicating that I value the social relationship, and I value other people’s time.
Recently, I officiated at a wedding. The experience of this wedding is typical for today. People were arriving late — after the processional had started. People were arriving and entering as the bride was coming down the aisle. People were arriving and entering late after the ceremony had started.
These modern wedding goers might have a hard time understanding the parable of wise and foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). In Jesus’ story, once the bridegroom arrived and the guests had entered, the door was shut. When the foolish virgins arrived, they did not gain entrance, but were told by the bridegroom, “I do not know you.”
But there are etiquette expectations even in modern times for weddings. You can google it for the answer. The expectation is that a guest will arrive fifteen minutes prior to the wedding time. You will need time to sign a guest register, and the seating may be ushered. All of this takes a few minutes, and with the crush of guests arriving, the time is needed.
But problems with being punctual are not just issues with weddings. I’ve seen funeral home directors also fret with attempting to start a funeral on time as they watch a number of cars pull into the parking lot late. People may not realize that funerals involve the scheduling of a number of things (fellowship time after the funeral and coordination with the workers at the cemetery for the grave side service and interment), and that the funeral home director may have more than one funeral that day.
I also have the same concerns for being punctual for church gatherings. (I do recognize that Wednesday nights are a bit of exception, because we have people rushing home from work and attempting to make it for our time together. Not everyone’s schedule is exactly the same.) I’m concerned about the message we convey to students in classes and visitors to our assemblies when so many people are late. It is especially important for teachers to be in the classrooms to greet students. If you have a special function or are a church leader, it is good to be early, so that guests and members can be greeted.
It is frustrating to teachers to have students coming in 10 to 20 minutes late. Now obviously, we would rather the student come than not come, but I don’t think we would tolerate this kind of tardiness in our students secular education. In our faith, we claim that the eternal is greater than the temporal. Are we living out that commitment, or are we demonstrating carelessness?
When we start talking about punctuality, someone will often bring up the fact that Christians in third world countries don’t worry about the time so much. In other words, punctuality is just so much cultural baggage that maybe we should jettison it too.
Yet most moderns only want to partially jettison the cultural baggage of punctuality. They still want events to end on time. In the third world situation, the start time may be fluid, but they usually spend a long time together when they assemble. The end time isn’t as important to them either.
I think there is a case for punctuality for us. We live with careful time keeping and most of us are not far from a watch or clock. We live with calendars and even appointment alarms on our smartphones. We live with busy schedules. Most of us receive rewards or punishments for being on time or late for things like work or school. So punctuality is something that we practice for at least certain events in our life.
Being punctual is a way of communicating to others that we value the time of everyone involved in a social activity. Being punctual communicates that we value the social engagement that has been scheduled.