Today, today! Friends, today we packed the church. Today the choir stood all in our lines and ready to process in, and Jared came out and said, look, things don’t always start on time, come and listen to the prelude.
So we drifted into the back of the nave and we listened as Jose introduced the hymn. He talked about how we have nothing, absolutely nothing, to offer a risen Savior. But how even still we are invited along the road, to walk with Him, having nothing to offer but ourselves.
This imperfect liturgy commenced, and some sang along with Jose and Daisy, and the mood in the room was indescribable (though of course I will try) with the sun streaming in through the stained glass and the dust motes floating on those beams of light. The robed choir and acolytes in the back and the people spell bound as a man played a guitar and sang about how we having nothing but ourselves to give to a Christ who roams the sand, seeking out disciples in the least of us, the ones who think they have the least to give; who are the most unworthy.
I looked at my brother, and at all the people spread out in the nave, at the peace that was tangible in that place, and I said, you did this. I am so proud of you.
We sang the service music in Spanish, and the liturgy flowed back and forth between English and Spanish, like we had done this a million times, though of course this was the first time.
Today, I was able to put my hands on the small shoulders of Our Laura, our confirmand, to feel her tremble just a little as she renewed her baptismal vows, as we all sort of numbered the gifts she brings to the altar in our heads. Today I vowed to help her, as her sponsor.
I remember when it was me, when I stood, shaking, waiting for the congregation to respond. At the time it was terrifying, now I wonder why I couldn’t believe that these people would want me to become one of them, to officially welcome me into their community. And so I understood the slight tremble, and I understood the tears on the faces of the others who were welcomed today. It is a powerful thing to have a body of people, more than a hundred strong say to you, all in unison, we welcome you. And we want you. And we believe you are worth wanting.
Today I helped my friend Janine’s granddaughter, who had somehow escaped, to find her grandma. She let me pick her up and hold her on my hip, and we talked about where her grandma could be. She was pretty sure grandma was at home, I was pretty sure I’d seen her at a table near the stage in the Parish Hall. I was right, and we reunited with grandma.
Today a little girl who’s about three carried the bread up for the first time, and our Ave carried the wine. Ave looked at me very meaningfully as the little girl was pressing the plate against her sweater dress and all the bread had fallen backward into a pile… and the bread and the wine were taken with such grace and such thanksgiving, as the little girls skipped away.
During the Eucharist we switched back and forth between English and Spanish. I was surprised to hear the choir respond in Spanish, and we sang in Spanish too.
So much of what happened today was imperfect, but in the end it is our imperfect, sometimes battered offerings that mean the most.
The music was too loud in the parish hall, the line was too long. We had to sit and eat with people we maybe don’t know and aren’t comfortable with. We sang imperfectly in a language that isn’t our own.
Today Deacon John, this beloved man, he preached via interpreter. So there was the beloved Diacono at one podium, and there was Jose at the other, and we all sort of ping ponged back and forth, but were left with a lasting message.
To those who believe there is no death.
To those who believe, hell grasped a corpse and met God, Hell was overthrown by what it could not see.
Because Hell could not grasp love, could not hold onto the slippery idea of grace, could not hold a man who rose and redeemed us.
I don’t know yet, if God looked at the chubby cheeks and baby face of Jesus and thought, how sad, you will die for my people. I have a hard time believing there was not a greater plan in place, if not, then what is all of this for?
Its this same redemption story played out again, it is this same story of sacrificial love made evident in the bread and the wine consumed at the altar, as a choir intones a taize in Spanish.
Today was about sacrificial love, about an organist who was tired and a choir that was, at times, bewildered. Today was about grace. And today was about living in a community of imperfect people with imperfect ideas on how things should be. Today was our Ave carrying the wine to the altar and today was talking babies in the pews and a choir that looked out over the people and smiled. Today was Deacon John preaching to us about how we are endless, how we cannot die, how we have life everlasting.
He will leave us soon and my heart, mi corazon, will not have the words to express his absence. I have now watched a deacon set the table, read the gospel, preach, bid the people to prayer, and dismiss the the people into service. I have also watched someone who is not afraid to walk up to any person and say hello, someone from whom the light of grace shines to brightly that it is blinding. I have learned, from him, how to welcome people in.
I wish I could find the words to describe how it felt, all of us packed into the Parish Hall, like sardines. Some dancing, some eating, some talking. This endless line of tables groaning with food, the endless line to get some of that food… the band that played.
I wish I could tell you how it was to be corporate in our worship, how all of us came to be at the foot of a throne, how all of us came to be sitting in the pews, how all of us came to be receiving at the same tables. It was a glorious thing.
Kaia is working on a song on her keyboard, Skinny Love, by Birdie.
Ave is watching some terrible show called The World of Gumball.
Casey is prowling restlessly, wishing someone would play chess with him.
My mom asked me tonight, what the purpose of all of these questions are? Why I would take everything out of my drawer and examine all these ideas, all these thing I thought I knew, why I would wonder if what I believed was my own or something I’d been told to believe.
I said, this is why this is hard. This is why, today, when Laura trembled the slightest bit under my hands I felt bad. It is a hard road, this dusty and red road, but it leads to places like this: Oases filled with tamales and Mexican rice and salsa bands. It leads to young families with skin just a shade different than my own, it leads to people who worship in a different language; and it leads to us, sometimes, worshiping altogether. Imperfectly bringing what God could never need.
I like to think that at the end of this I will have re packed my drawer, like a steamer trunk on a grand ship bound for that retirement home my sister and I have vowed to share, on the northwest coast of Scotland. I like to think that at some point I will be resolute and that I will be sure.
And at the same time I sort of rue that day, that day when all of the learning is done, when I have it completely figured out. It is, at times, hopeful to me that that day will never come. That even in purgatory or heaven or what is to come, in my little camper with the owl lights that string from the awning ans drive back the dark, with the world smelling like a thousand campfires and the strum of a guitar in the distance, and that bus rumbling every day down the lane asking, are you ready yet? Ready to move closer in, ready to be closer to the throne room of our God?
I hope there will come a day where I am ready, where I have my go bag and can walk out the door, down the rickety steps of my camper, across the brushed dirt yard and up the steps of that bus, where I can settle myself into a bus seat and just watch the world go by for moment as I am moved further up and further in.
I hope to camp with you someday, in one of the concentric circles of heaven, as we all move closer to that divine island placed in the middle of the mists, where cherubim and seraphim sing perfectly what we can only attempt.
But today was pretty perfect.
And I am called again and again to examine myself, to examine my reasons, to examine my faith. Rich Mullins, the late and great, wrote such true words about the love of God.
I love you still.
Oh, mi diacono, gracias.
May we meet again in that place where mercy leads.
And when I thought that I was all alone, it was your voice I heard calling me back home. And I wonder now Lord, what was it made me wait so long? And what kept you waiting for me all this time? Was Your love stronger than my foolish pride? …And I’m learning, I’m learning even I can be changed.