Five weeks ago, something that I can only describe as miraculous happened. We held an honest to goodness church service with real live people right there in middle of NYC. It wasn’t well-attended, but we had a few people come out, enough to make it a valid church service. There were masks, and sanitizers, temperature checks, and social distancing, but there it was. Confession, absolution, proclamation, preaching, worship and benediction, it was all there. It was a little awkward to be sure, but every week got a little easier and more comfortable, like an old friend who you haven’t seen in a while.
I still took it for granted.
That first week, I settled in like it was normal. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but for a minute, or maybe more, I forgot what I had been missing for the last four months. I slipped back into the norm so effortlessly, I neglected the gift I was given in that first service. As much as I love the people of my church, the worship by our musicians and the preaching of my pastor, I realized a few minutes too late what I missed the most.
I missed it for the same reason I missed church in general, maybe just with slightly less enthusiasm. I missed that tangible expression of God’s grace and mercy. I missed the tactile gospel handed to me by my pastor. I missed eating and drinking of the grace of God. It slipped past me for a second as I took the elements from my pastor, but then it hit me all at once. Here is “God for me”, here he is shoved into bread and wine by his own volition.
For months we questioned the how, why, when, where of it all. Desperate for answers to our probing and worrisome questions. Yes, I am a christian, and I still worry and fear, but that’s ok, because God IS big enough to accept me, “as is”. Now here he is, in Word and worship, but most of all, in the presence of communion. To hold the body, to drink his blood, to take in Christ, something outside of me, given to me, such an awesome reminder of the goodness of God, the sacrifice of God, the grace of God.
When it hit me, I was disappointed in myself for a moment. It had been four months since the last time I walked into a church, since I worshipped in person, since I took the presence of God found in these mundane objects of bread and wine. But it did hit me, and I was overwhelmed with thankfulness.
I wish I was weeper. As grateful as I was, and I truly was, I wanted to shed tears the way others do. Weeping, and maybe some outright bawling emotions seemed to be what was called for in the presence of these awesome gifts that I had been denied access to for so many long months. Sometimes I feel like I don’t appreciate it enough, because I don’t have a deep visceral response. Thankful God’s standards for acceptance is much lower than mine. I’d have kicked me out for less. God instead calls me his despite even less than that.
It’s been five weeks now. We are still practically the only game in town. There are just not too many churches willing to get up and running in NYC yet. Soon, I’m sure. Until then, we meet, we worship, we receive his words, we receive forgiveness. We receive him, physically and tangibly, deeply and spiritually. I am overwhelmed by this thought, overcome by how much he gives me, how deeply he gives me, how fully he gives me.
We still live in very uncertain times. Not just for our society as a whole, but for this little church desiring desperately to make the inroads necessary to put down roots that would drive down deep into the soil of this concrete jungle. This pandemic has made it hard, forming what seems like an impenatrable ground cover, difficult for roots to break through. Still, that may be a conversation for another day.
For now… For what it’s worth… I have Christ….
And I am grateful for this incredible taste of hope and freedom.