Sunday, I just wanted to crawl back into bed. I was haunted, Saturday, by the news of the shooting in El Paso, and woke, Sunday, to the news of the shooting in Dayton. It still weighs heavily on my heart – for the victims, for their families, for the shooter’s family, for the spiritual poverty of the nation, for the brokenness of the world. If I hadn’t already made a plan to attend a neighboring church, I wouldn’t have had the resolve to find a place to worship; I would have gone back to bed.
It felt good to sit down in the pew. It was good to see the altar, the reading desk, the familiar elements of traditional churches. This is a place where grace happens. This is a place where the cries of the heart are spoken, where heaven answers through ancient words and bread broken. This is a place where spirits are revived and lives renewed. Simply being there helped me breathe.
The scripture readings were powerful. Hosea 11 records God’s lament for a people God had conceived and nurtured, but who turn away constantly.
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
….and out of Egypt I called my son.
2The more I called them,
….the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
….and offering incense to idols.
“I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love,” says God, but the nation’s hardness of heart meant that “The sword rages in their cities.”
There it is. There we find ourselves. The sword is raging in the land, our long and painful litany of hate and violence. And God cries out:
8How can I give you up, Ephraim?
….How can I hand you over, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
….How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart recoils within me;
….my compassion grows warm and tender.
9I will not execute my fierce anger;
….I will not again destroy Ephraim;
There is mercy for a people who do not deserve it. God is faithful though we are not. God will deliver.
But the preacher did not use this text speak to us. She made no comment about El Paso or Dayton or what happened in our own neighborhood at the Garlic Festival a mere a week ago.
Any of the texts of the day could have spoken to us. The rich man who built bigger barns failed to recognize his obligations to the community. Psalm 107 spoke of the “hungry and thirsty”whose souls “fainted within them.” And yes, the poet spoke of physical hunger, but it is a psalm of praise for God’s deliverance. This God of the Exodus and Sinai, this divine love that called forth a good world and opened the grave, this God “satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things,” and we were hungry. At least I was hungry.
Colossians 3 begged us to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is,”and bid us “Put to death”what is earthly: “you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.” Surely this, too speaks to our moment. And the declaration that “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” How can such words not speak to our divided land?
All these things could have been said but none of them were. It was as though nothing of consequence had happened. The thing we were doing had no connection to the travails of the world and the despairs of our hearts. I grew restless. Troubled. I could feel the fire burning and thought of Jeremiah who tried to be silent. I wanted to stand and speak to the community, to say something if only to point to the bread and wine on the altar and remind us all that this central act of the church is both sign and promise that the work of God is to gather all people to one table.
As the bread and wine were lifted up, as the words of Jesus were spoken without passion or proclamation, I grew more and more agitated. As I knelt at the altar rail I couldn’t focus – and then the minister put a piece of bread in my hand the size of a small dinner roll. It made me laugh. Here was God saying, “Shut up and eat.” Here was grace abounding, far more than I could eat in one bite. I dipped it in the chalice, bit off the portion soaked in wine, and continued to laugh, trying to swallow the first bite so I could eat the rest before everyone left the altar rail.
I went back to my seat still laughing to myself. God had found the way to my heart.
There are sorrows in the land. There are terrible wounds and tears and losses that will ache forever. The hateful voices continue. The mockery, the name-calling, the children wrenched from parents, the pompous hypocrisy, the bloated self-righteousness, the lies and deceits, the barricades of mindless slogans, it’s all there. It is rife in the land. But the God who would hold us as one who lifts a child to her cheek still reaches out to us. There is a bread of life for us all. Grace abounds.
Now, like the rich man in the parable, we need only learn to share it.
+ + +