Monday, July 02, 2012

A Sacramental Life

It's a long drive from here to there, about 110 miles.
And I take a similar one every 2-3 weeks to see my mom.
But this past weekend,
I traveled those miles to make a different kind of connection,
one that spans nearly 30 years,
a lot of living, and miles of change in each of our lives.
We enjoyed the sunshine,
we sneaked in an extra chair at a very high-brow establishment 
(just because we could),
we laughed and we talked and we ate. 

Yes, we look a little bit older than the last time we did this.
And yes, there have been some stresses added to each of 
our lives in the months between our last visit and this one.
But what I carry with me into this late evening hour 
is one overarching truth, this bracing reality:
friendship across time is a holy thing,
a sacramental thing,
a gift of God to be savored, 
and relished.
I carried the sweetness of our time together all the way home,
through 45 extra minutes of snarled traffic,
fatigue and stiff knees. 
"How wonderful, how beautiful, 
when brothers and sisters get along!
   It's like costly anointing oil
      flowing down..."
the psalmist wrote.
And the fragrance of our time was indeed,
'wonderful and beautiful.' 
This morning brought us back to our community,
gathering in worship to
to hear a beautiful and finely tuned exposition 
of the Word from the pulpit, 
to share in bread and cup. 

There were three relatively small things that
happened today that have stayed with me, 
late into this evening.
Three things that somehow feel woven
of the same cloth as yesterday's gathering of friends
at a classic old hotel in South Pasadena,
three things that seem
woven of sacramental cloth. 
Today, as Pastor Jon stepped into the pulpit,
he did something we've never done before.
He asked us to stand, 
to reach out and hold the hand of the person
next to us, even if that person was across the aisle.
Then he said this:
"Doing this probably feels more than a little bit
awkward to you. I'm here to tell you that  
that is exactly the right posture 
for hearing the Word of God."
And he proceeded to read the text of the 
morning, taken from the book of James. 

And we held each others' hands 
and we listened to the Word.
We placed ourselves under that Word,
physically, literally and spiritually.
And as the words from that ancient epistle
rolled in gentle waves over our heads,
I could sense the awkwardness dissipating,
the unity and connection between us
taking shape and form and beauty in our midst.
It was a sacramental moment.
 At the conclusion of the preached word,
Jon stepped down from the pulpit to the table,
preparing to serve the people of God with
the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.
As he did so, our Pastor to Students joined him.
Jon gently unfolded his 
and placed it around his neck.
And as Lisa came forward, I could see 
that she wore the one she received
at her ordination two years ago.
Together, they prayed over and distributed the
torn bread and cups of purple juice to
an assortment of council members
who brought them to us. 
We are not a 'formal' church.
I have never worn my black robe there,
nor has any other member of the pastoral staff.
But somehow, just that small, simple,
act of draping the 'yolk of Christ'
around their necks, and over their clothes,
added an extra layer of meaning and depth
to this holy moment in the life of our congregation.
It was a sacramental gesture, 
 rich with reminder
that the Table of the Lord is a holy place,
that the food we eat 
and the drink we share
are set apart, 
consecrated, for our nourishment and
encouragement on the way. 

Our children worship with us every week
for part of the service.
But on Communion Sunday,
they are in worship the entire hour.
Sometimes this makes for a noisier congregation,
and that is just fine.
In fact, it is welcome.
Today, after the benediction,
after the postlude,
after most of the congregants streamed out
the back door into the warm California sunshine,
a third small surprise brought brief tears to my eyes.
A small blond boy named Kai
came quietly into our pew as we leaned across it,
talking with some friends we hadn't seen in a while.
He picked up our used communion cups, 
nodded his head and 
went searching for a few more.
Just a few moments later,
the four of us who were chatting caught a glimpse
of something up front.
Kai and his big sister Ruby were taking a stack of
used communion cups and very carefully
setting them around the rim of
our beautiful, artist-designed glass baptismal font.
"I think," said our friend,
"that maybe Ruby is doing something
wonderful with the sacraments this morning. 
Maybe even something we've not seen before."
I looked across the sanctuary and gasped a little.
The effect was beautiful -
the glass bowl shimmered,
the empty cups shone,
the sweet girl was so intent and careful with her work.
It was a sacramental act of found art,
a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ
at its very best.
Word and water,
bread and cup,
contemplation and action -
all of it woven together into a beautiful
garment of praise. 

As followers of Jesus,
we are invited into this whole-cloth,
beautifully woven sacramental life.
We are called to live that life as if
every moment is holy,
every person is a saint,
every gesture is an offering,
every common thing is an altar.

Because this is the truth,
the deep, beautiful, holy truth.
THIS life, this one life -
with its joys and its sorrows,
its gifts and its burdens -
it is a sacrament.

Glory be.  

Joining with Michelle, Jennifer, Jennifer, Ann and Duane today for their 
lovely invitations to share what we're learning, what we're thankful for,
what surprise us, what Sunday teaches us and how we see the promises of God at work.
Somehow, they all seem pertinent to these scattered recollections today. 
I'll also tuck it in with Laura and her Playdates with God.