photo by Cameron Nations

Transitioning back to work after an active, invigorating two-week vacation was hindered by the lingering effects of a sinus infection.  My clergy colleagues were eager to support and took care of my assigned duties.  Unexpectedly, I was worshipping without the responsibility of holding any details.  I love to lead worship. I love to celebrate the Eucharist. I love to preach. Yet this day, receiving the gift of being carried by the liturgy as my colleagues skillfully led, and read, and prayed, and preached was a soothing way to re-enter after vacation.

Dropping into the deep space of observer, I looked out into the congregation and their stories welled-up. Stories of love and loss and joys and fears.  Stories of dreams beyond measure fulfilled. Stories of dreams dashed and making meaning from “what is.”

Since we had an abundance of clergy, out of an abundance of caution, I did not even  participate in administering the Eucharist. Stationed behind the altar, I prayed as the incarnate manifestation of those stories bravely knelt, raised their hands and received the Body of Christ.  I noticed that two people were next to each other who had each lost dear loved ones in the past year. I prayed they would experience the communion of saints present at the Eucharist–their loved ones present in this moment with them.  As they rose, nearly simultaneously, the elder of the two–whose loss was a bit longer ago, gently put his arm around the younger, the one whose wound is quite fresh.

Today was the first Sunday for our new organist, Kenneth Hamrick. Staff members who do not usually worship at the 10:30 service made it a point to come support  Kenneth on his first day. I adore our former organist Jim Dorroh.  Jim helped to install the organ at my former parish, played at my ordination. He will always be dear to me. There were many changes with the music today. All supported beautiful worship in my unmusically-trained opinion. I couldn’t help but smile when I looked to the choir loft and saw Kenneth exuberantly oozing his love of music, I dare say, love of God during the offertory anthem. He could not be contained as he played, “Sing to the Lord a new song!” (Ps. 96:1). I kidded Kenneth afterward that I was afraid he was going to bounce off of his bench, out of the choir loft, and tumble into the congregation. Kenneth’s love of music and people is infectious.

Recently I have been challenged to defend the Church’s relevance in today’s world. Do we really make a difference?  My experience today and so many days is “yes.”  God is gathering us–to play and pray and cry together and laugh together. God is gathering us to study together and support one another and even call each other out when we are not living in accordance to the Gospel.  God is gathering us to care for the least of these and share the bounty of gifts God has bestowed upon us. Together we find truths inaccessible on our own. Separate of community, there is a danger of making ourselves gods.

Yes, piling a bunch of humans together in organized religion is messy. That’s true of our families and our workplaces too. And yet in the mess we grow. We forgive one another. We are humbled by our own mistakes. We are lifted up by the encouragement and inspiration of one another. At the core is our Great Thanksgiving for everything–breath, and life, and struggle, and work, and love, and beauty, and most of all for Jesus who came to show us the way. Personally, I have to be in intentional community to be able to follow his greatest commandment, to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

God is gathering us. Welcome to the table.  Amen.