AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.
A 4-minute read
Wow. On Sunday, The Little Church That Could* was firing on all cylinders. (Forgive the mixed metaphors.)
The Little Church That Could = train
Firing on all cylinders = car
Seriously, I don’t know where to start—how to riff on such richness? Jesus Juve…
During service, we explored the miracle and mystery of meeting Jesus in the Eucharist—and the table’s central place in our liturgy.
All of liturgy, all of life is call and response.
Shoulder to shoulder, we say out loud:
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
These are some of the most true—and understated—words we’ll say all week.
In thought, word, and deed, I stumble. At times, I fall flat on my face. As Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, wrote, I am “bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt out.” I am tempted, in the name of authenticity, to camp out here. Like, set up a tent and stay.
Have you noticed? Brokenness is having a moment. It’s hip to be a hot mess.
Naming your nicks and scratches has its merits. But some of us are prone to wallow. (I’m working on it.)
Being vulnerable with folks you trust seems like a net positive. I appreciate how safe our congregation feels; among one another we can share: a) recommendations for a good counselor; b) the real answer to the question “how are you?”; c) more recommendations for a good counselor if the first one’s not a fit.
We all have our shadow-stories. But we have this, too: We’re invited into another story, one that celebrates the solution. Light overcomes the darkness—illuminating even the dusty, neglected crags and corners. We lean on Jesus as we “unlearn the lesser ways.”
What are you unlearning?
At this time of year, for me it’s hurry. I long for a contemplative, quiet Advent. But when I’m not at my desk wrestling with words, I’m fixing and making, buying and baking. Drowning in “disordered affections,” I find myself huffing about. My husband, Luke, hears me stomping and asks, “Are you mad?” No, I’m not mad. You’ll KNOW when I’m mad. I’m in a h-u-r-r-y. It’s called getting stuff done—you should try it!
(Give Luke a hug when you see him.)
He is long-suffering, a man of patience. These are good qualities in a spouse. They are even better qualities in a Savior, who can do something—has done something—about the hot mess.
Have mercy on us and forgive us…
In Anglican tradition, following the confession there are the Comfortable Words, passages from Scripture promising tender mercy and rest for the weary. Our gaze shifts from inward to upward.
… that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
As a kid in church, the passing of the peace and I were not pals. Pretty much everything was embarrassing, but the grasping of hands with randos ranked high in the vast field of humiliations.
And then there was my dad, who squeezed my hand hard. Really, it was excessive. Perhaps more startling was the intense eye contact. Eye contact on crack. When he offered the peace of Christ, Dad was in no hurry. Most of the time, he hurried (as adults, especially in the eyes of children, do). He rode the train to the office. He walked fast, drove fast. A chemical engineer, he helped me with math and science homework in wonder that the apple did fall far. He was there for me—but he could be remote, even gruff.
In recent years, he’s softened. When I call the house, he doesn’t pass the phone to Mom; he chats. When he reads to us Luke 2 on Christmas Eve, his voice breaks.
He still squeezes hard, zealously passing the peace. My hands are bigger now, and I squeeze back. And… I think I get it. This moment, this weird but holy moment, is when my earthly father sees me—or tries to—not as hopelessly right-brained or brunette or of average height, but as his only daughter—and as a daughter of Christ.
I did not understand this until recently, when I began to observe how I pass the peace in church. (Fear not—I won’t crush your fingers or stare you down.) Despite the awkwardness, this is when I see. I see the middle-aged man behind me or the preteen girl next to me—strangers, sometimes!—for what they are: fingerprints of God.
What if that kind of seeing spilled over into the workaday? Now and again it does, this seeing of others with Father-eyes. This variety of seeing feels lighter, easier, softer.
I’m reminded of the 1967 standard, “What a Wonderful World” in which Louis Armstrong sang,
I see friends shaking hands, saying ‘How do you do?’
They’re really saying, ‘I love you.’
The Great Thanksgiving
I’ll leave you with a digression (it’s all digression in this space)—a prayer about feasting with friends, written by Douglas McKelvey in his lovely book of liturgies, Every Moment Holy. We spoke these words before our daughter’s wedding supper, and we say them with dear ones at a dinner party each December. I bid you to bless a meal this Christmas with what follows, an abridged version of “Feasting with Friends.” Fair warning: Your voice may break (like my dad’s voice breaks), especially after the isolation and hardship of the last 20 months.
Leader: To gather joyfully
is indeed a serious affair,
for feasting and all enjoyments
gratefully taken are,
at their hearts, acts of war.
People: In celebrating this feast
we declare that
evil and death, suffering and loss,
sorrow and tears,
will not have the final word.
But the joy of fellowship, and the welcome
and comfort of friends new and old,
and the celebration of these blessings of
food and drink and conversation and laughter
are the true evidences of things eternal,
and are the first fruits of that great glad joy
that is to come and that will be unending.
May this shared meal, and our pleasure in it,
bear witness against the artifice and deceptions
of the prince of the darkness that would blind
this world to hope.
May it strike at the root of the lie that
would drain life of meaning, and
the world of joy, and suffering of redemption.
May this our feast fall like a great hammer blow
against that brittle night,
shattering the gloom, reawakening our hearts,
stirring our imaginations, focusing our vision
on the kingdom of heaven that is to come,
on the kingdom that is promised,
on the kingdom that is already,
indeed, among us,
For the resurrection of all good things
has already joyfully begun.
May this feast be an echo of that great
Supper of the Lamb,
a foreshadowing of the great celebration
that awaits the children of God.
*My affectionate name for The Parish, which bravely chugged uphill after a change in lead pastorship, the loss of its meeting space, and a mighty search and struggle for a new space—all during a global pandemic.