Sitting in the back of a presbytery worship service – watching two of my black-robed colleagues call us to confession and read Scripture and preside at the table laden with silver trays filled with tiny plastic cups of grape juice and little pieces of Wonder Bread – a recurring thought kept coming to consciousness: This is utterly ridiculous.
We sing words from hymns written over a century ago and recite creeds crafted in antiquity. These ancient texts get projected onto screens affixed next to a cross, a state-sanctioned means of execution from ages past. We “pass the peace,” another idiosyncrasy not easily translated to those outside our sanctuary walls. We sit silently (at least that’s the norm in most of our houses of worship) and listen for 15-20 minutes while the preacher expounds on stories set in cultures light-years away from our current context. At this service the necrology was read as “Amazing Grace” emanated from bagpipes. Necrology. Amazing grace. Bagpipes. Exponential oddness. The whole production, when looked at rationally, is utterly ridiculous.
I suppose this could be said of other human endeavors. A college football game with all its accompanying rituals comes to mind. Or a contentious city council meeting. Political rallies strike me as strange, if not unlike the afore mentioned sporting event. But worship takes the prize for weirdness. No one wins. Nothing of any material value is produced. Votes do not get taken (except in those rare congregational meetings and then only for a few polity-prescribed items). The only food consumed comes in Lilliputian quantities and represents the body and blood of our Savior. Could it get any more bizarre than that? People gathered do not divide into teams or, if we take Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians to heart, come to represent different constituencies. Attendance cannot be compelled in this day and time. Everything from coming to worship, to putting money in the plate, to taking the bread and cup, to serving as an usher is voluntary. Expectations get voiced, more or less, but participation levels vary and accountability tends to skew low.
Why, I wondered, are we here? The worship that prompted this thought took place on a Saturday — a beautiful fall Saturday. Yet more evidence of the utter ridiculousness of what we do. As my mind wandered and irreverent considerations filled my brain, the silver tray appeared before me. I took a chunk of that gluten-filled square and held it for a moment. I looked around unsure whether to hold it until all received the element. I noted others chewing and popped it into my mouth, bowed my head and in an instant got lost in the distinct sound of the organ music. Unbidden, tears flowed down my face. My mind once again wandered, this time to people not with me that day. People I wanted to be beside on the pew or around the dinner table or just over the course of any day. I remembered my father-in-law, dead 23 years. I thought about my son, living a time zone away. I pictured my daughter, likely still in her dorm room on a Saturday morning. I began to miss my other daughter, at home, happy for time without parents or school obligations. I gave thanks for my husband in the adjacent state running errands with my dad whose health refuses to acquiesce to pleas to be and do better.
That square – carefully cut by a dutiful church member, prayed over by my Geneva-gowned presbytery mates, passed around by ruling elders giving up their Saturday to do so, given for me by Jesus Christ – became wonder bread indeed, even though I failed to anticipate its power. How utterly odd and ridiculous and peculiar and promised.
I waited for the cup seated beside stalwart commissioners I know, people dedicated to building homes for those in need of them from Virginia to Mexico, prepared leaders with their agenda printed and reports read, united with them in this strange and beautiful Body of Christ, gathered to do nothing more and nothing less than praise the God who loves and saves us. This is ridiculous, I thought. And I am so grateful to be here.
Grace and peace,