Impressions

Snow Steps

On a snowy afternoon, I took a right out of the driveway instead of my usual left, walking away from the cloud-covered mountain view in favor of the smaller scale quiet of trees and stone walls. No breeze played in the branches and all the houses stood silent. My own breathing and the tck-tck-tck of my boots compacting the snow were the only sounds overlaying the peth-peth-peth of falling flakes. In the snowfall-filtered light, at the end of my road, I entered a sanctuary as holy as any stone cathedral.

It remained only for a few minutes, bourn away by the sound of a truck engine starting somewhere close by. I turned around and pointed my boots homeward. Mine were still the only impressions in the snow, marking a solitary progression from home to unexpected holy ground. They would soon be lost, buried by the falling snow or overridden by tire tracks. That’s okay -such signs don’t need to remain once their work is done. The encounter, not the sign, is what lasts – an impression and a message: surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

Amen

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore live in him, and he in us. Amen.

I say it at least eight times in the typical worship service. Recently, I’ve been thinking of different ways of saying Amen, ways to help me mean it when I say it: I’m in! Sign me up! Absolutely! Thinking of Amen as a verbal way of raising my hand rather than a place-holding word to keep the rhythm of the service on track keeps me from thinking I am merely a passive observer rather than an active participant. It also brings to mind what I’m in for…

Do I want to see love transform this world into a place where everyone knows they are unique and sacred? Absolutely!

Am I willing to give up the partial identities that drain joy from my daily life? Sign me up!

Will I join with others to serve those whom Jesus loved – the poor, the needy, the desperate? I’m in!

And the hardest one: will I let go of my preferred way of seeing and acting in the world to bring about God’s kingdom? Am I willing to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? Let’s hope I can say with conviction and joy: I’m in!

Indwelling

Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.

[For full prayer, click Humble Access above.]

Exactly what are we doing when we take part in communion/eucharist/mass? Remembering, honoring, participating in Jesus’ last meal with his disciples? Are the bread/wafers and wine/grape juice symbolic, connecting us to something larger? Do these common elements somehow change into the body and blood of Christ? Our answers to such questions depend on our particular traditions and our life experience. There is no single correct answer because there is no single way to experience communion with God and with the people who join with us in this sacred act.

It matters how we approach the bread and wine, but not because our theology needs to be affirmed or corrected. It matters because we are seeking something much bigger than a correct understanding. We are seeking what God in Christ offers: living in the love of God, and the love of God living within us.

Indwelling – God in us and us in God – is the point. The theological particulars of how we understand this can provide a doorway into this indwelling, or they can be a wall that keeps us out.

Property Values

But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

[For full prayer, click Humble Access above.]

Years ago, at the end of a delightful meal in the company and home of people I had just met, the conversation turned to the story of the neighbor across the street. At the end of a nasty divorce, the man of the house left and the woman and her two children remained. To keep up with expenses, the now single mom had brought her sister in to live with her. A few minutes were spent discussing how hard it was for single parents to make ends meet, and how important it was for children to remain in their homes when possible.

An abrupt end to the whole conversation arrived when my hostess said, “It’s too bad they’ll have to move, but it’s against the home owner’s association policy to have two heads of household in the same home. The rules protect our property values.” For her the matter was settled. There could be no exceptions to the rules, no matter how those rules might cause additional damage to an already stressful situation. Property values were at stake.

It’s easy to judge my hostess for her lack of compassion and questionable values. Still, I wonder how my own past thoughts and decisions would have been different if the property I most valued was mercy?

Philadelphia Row Houses by Colin Fredrickson

Crumbs

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house if Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:21-28, NRSV

For Jesus, it was plain that he was sent to Abraham’s children – all those who served the God of Jacob, Leah, Abraham, and Hannah. God knows he had his hands full with that destiny, and may not have given anyone who fell outside that focus much thought. Until an outside voice cries for help, desperate enough to break through any barrier to save her daughter.

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.

She doesn’t argue the point with Jesus, or pretend that she is one of the flock. She doesn’t even contradict him when he relegates her to dog status, worth so much less than a child. She doesn’t ask for a place at the table, she just claims her right to the smallest grace – the crumbs that are so small that they end up on the floor, out of sight and mind of those enjoying the banquet. She turns Jesus’ image on its head by claiming her place within it; she gains a demon-free life for her daughter, and Jesus, perhaps, sees the scope of his life’s work widen to include outsiders as well as insiders.

But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

Worthy or not, everyone has a right to claim the crumbs.

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. Prayer of Humble Access

Merciful

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.

When we come to God in all our humanity, flawed thinking and acting on full display, will we be welcomed or rejected?

Since God came to us in Jesus, proactively seeking us out and offering love, I’m going to go with welcomed.

When we come to God in all our humanity, acutely aware of our flaws and mistakes, will we accept God’s love or reject it because we only want what we have earned?

An answer of yes isn’t as sure a thing, because it’s entirely up to us rather than God.

Say yes, for God’s sake as much as ours.

Presume

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

[Prayer of Humble Access, various sources. To read more on this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prayer_of_Humble_Access]

Presume: To undertake without leave or clear justification; to expect or assume especially with confidence; to suppose to be true without proof; to take for granted. [merriam-webster.com]

The table which feeds us spiritually isn’t our personal property, and we have no claim on its bounty. Just as it would be wrong to assume a place at our neighbor’s table for dinner, it’s presumptuous of us to assume a space at God’s: neither God nor neighbor owe us automatic hospitality. It’s important to admit that we need an invitation.

At the same time, it’s critical to remember that we do have an invitation, that Jesus asked us to take our place at his table. There is a place at the table for each one of us – not because of our own claim on it, but because God claims us as welcome guests. If we remember that we are guests at the table and not hosts, we won’t take the bounty of the table for granted.

Humble Access

Some love it, some have a problem with the language. You might hear it at an eight o’clock service, but rarely at a ten or eleven o’clock Rite Two. After many years of hearing thoughts divided between appreciation and discomfort, I thought I’d take a closer look. I hope you join in!

Prayer of Humble Access

We do not presume to come this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

[Rite One Eucharistic Service, Book of Common Prayer]

Suddenly

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

Heavenly Host by Thomas Nordquist

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Luke 2:1-14, NRSV

Gracious God, give us the wisdom to seek angels, and to see them in our midst. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to love. On this holy night, make us holy. Amen.

Art offered by Thom Nordquist, child of God who is with Jesus.