From my pew I see the liturgist rise from his seat and take his place at the pulpit. As the solemn organ pipes begin to hum he lifts up his voice:
The Lord be with you
It sounds as if the Holy Spirit itself were emerging from his deep within his chest. A bit timid at first, my voice joins the others in the chorus of responses,
And also with you
The words come as natural to us as the very breath accompanying them. In this moment I cease to be alone. Across the sanctuary all voices come together. Almost all hours of all days the body that is us is wild and erratic, yet in this movement we are a harmony. Each forgeting themselves as we becomes “our” selves. We have heard ourselves speak these words hundreds of times yet each time we still ponder the timeless desire they convey. Yes, Lord be with us. Let us be ever at your table. Let your supper be our refuge.
Lift up your hearts
Louder and more passionate now:
We lift them up to the Lord
Oh my troubled soul, be at peace, for behold the Lord is present!
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It’s right to give our thanks and praise
In an instant the organ ceases and the entire sanctuary is full of silence. Then the pastor speaks. We know the words. The organ starts back up and we begin again as if the voice of David himself were speaking through us:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
The song ends and we sit in silence as the pastor recalls the great miracle of Christ’s incarnation. Yes Lord, we remember how You came among us. We ponder as we listen to the prayer. We ponder the great mystery by which God became flesh. Out death emerged life. From brokeness to wholeness. In reenactment of the past is revealed the present and real. Oh Holy Paradox! May my mind become graciously lost trying to comprehend.
The pastor’s arm lifts up the broken loft, broken as we ourselves. I behold it in all its plainness and its fraility. It is only from such places that true grace comes and God’s glory is revealed. Yes, we are body. We are the frail and broken people from which God chooses to be revealed. Among us Christ chose to dwell unashamed.
Slowly I rise and move toward the altar. Still laying in the pew where I sat is all I leave behind: man, white, American, Methodist. I cannot wear these things at the table I am about to be sitting at. My soul rejoices in no longer carrying the weight of them on my back. It is a table not set for such things.
I reach the railing. I find my seat among the others. I kneel beside them. None of us is worthy of this honor, yet it is beyond us to refuse. My brother is approaching serving the bread. I call him brother for he has even left his clergyman behind. These are the only addresses that befit us now. He reaches to me and offers the bread. I mourn that it must be broken yet again for my sake. As I place the bread into my mouth I forget all other food and long to eat from no other table. My sister is here now with the cup. As she hands it to me she reminds me that it was poured out for this moment for me and for all. As my lips taste the sweet life from the vine, I know I will never taste any sweeter.
Holiest of Mysteries present at this moment. The Father’s Table set out before us. The Son’s body offered for us. The Spirit’s grace conveyed to us. Oh Beloved Trinity! Acting in perfect unity. All present in each one’s presence.
I remain at the railing for several moments in prayer. No, it isn’t prayer. It’s longing. Longing for the moment. Longing to remain at the foot of the Table forever, for no place is lovelier to me.
Cannot this be the place we sit always? Cannot all our ministry take place at the foot of this Table? Cannot this be our mission and our charity to the world? Cannot we forget all strife, all allegiances, all other desires? Can I not worship God in the presence of all God’s children and not just those who call my congregation or denomination home? Can I not always break bread with my brethren whether they be Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant or on earth or in heavenly banquet? Must I again carry the weights I came in with?
With great reluctance I leave my place and return to the pew. Thank you Lord for this grace. Thank you for this taste of greater things to come. Keep me refreshed as I return to the world. Let this time not be forgotten. I regret that I must always leave still hungry for more, but You will keep a place for me always set.