(Christian Courier column, March 26th, 2012)
“What do you see, Cathy?”
On Palm Sunday our pastor called us to worship with a dramatic and arresting greeting: “Daughter of Zion, ‘See your Savior comes!’” I’d never before felt so personally addressed, so publicly validated as a woman in church. Sure, I know it’s metaphorical. I know it’s Jerusalem. But, at that moment, the extraordinary proclamation was for me, too, a daughter of Zion. Jesus the Bridegroom, taking the initiative, coming to me. The distaff version of the Prodigal Son, I mused fancifully.
Then, a few days later, at choir practice, I noticed the Lord’s Supper table was already dressed for Good Friday’s Communion celebration. Palm Sunday’s proclamation echoed in my heart: See, your Savior comes. He’s already prepared the table for you. Frederick Buechner points out that reading Scripture in a different language can enrich your comprehension of the text. How true of this verse: “Tu dresses devant moi une table.” Here is not the daily setting of the table by some grudging servant, but the gracious preparation of a banquet by the host himself, smoothing the linens, eyeing the wine glasses for water spots, troubling himself to ensure that every detail is perfect. A clue that something was up, maybe, but I paid no further attention to what seemed nothing more than my usual proclivity toward imaginativeness.
It happened on Good Friday. Like Ezekiel, “I looked and I saw the glory of the Lord filling the temple of the Lord.” No, I didn’t fall face down. My cellular construction is knit too tightly with grey woolen threads of Dutch reserve. But somewhere in my soul danced a tiny charismatic, a holy ghoster Appalachian snake-handler, a whirling dervish fanatic in visionary thrall.
Don’t get me wrong. I followed the sermon and the liturgy and the singing. I was fully present. But I also saw so much more. Buechner writes about looking “at a window” seeing the “fly-specks, dust, the crack where Junior’s Frisbiee hit” and looking “through the window” to see the “world beyond.” I was looking at my worshiping church family, but seeing beyond, seeing my church as a precious gift, a “pearl of great price,” gifted out of the liberality of the Host.
Join me at the window. Look past the surface scratches and smears. Come and look at the multitudinousness (exactly the right kind of overblown word) of the blessings that fill the sanctuary of even such a humble church like mine.
See the pastor who prepared and prayed over his text. See the elder who visited the nursing home yesterday bringing Communion to the shut-ins. See the devoted daughter who picked up her visually-impaired mom and drove her to church. See the custodian who cubed the bread early this morning. The young people who raked the gravel of the parking lot last night. The 80-year-old who put up the sign Jesus Died To Save Us And Lives To Keep Us. The volunteer who photocopied some children’s bulletins because the service might be long and the kids might get restless. The sound guy who showed up early to test out the microphones with the mom and daughter who also showed up early early to practise their duet. The flautist and trombonist, their exquisite harmony plaintively asking, “Were you there?” The pianist and organist who practised their pieces the day before. The elders who presented the sacramental meal with the quiet dignity of tuxedoed butlers. The seamstress who stitched a crimson cross on a black banner. The widow who donated the lilies and watered them during the week so their heady fragrance would waft Easter to us already today. The volunteer who arranged for a video to be shown to the Sunday school children. See the people who offered their gifts: their voices, their prayers, their money, their talents, their time. See these friends, the Body of Christ, who brought their fears and worries and hopes and dreams to the Cross at 4524 Confederation Line, Wyoming.
I’ve written this kind of list before. I probably will again. Like Jeremiah, I’m helpless before the One who reaches out his hand and touches my mouth and asks what I see – a vision that never fails to shake me, that impels my spirit to wave frenzied palm fronds before a triumphant Saviour who did not find us unworthy of his love but came riding on a donkey toward a deadly destiny on our behalf. This vision: when we, the prodigals, gather in any old worn and patched church to say we believe that we are “the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord, the Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted.” And not just “we.” Me. The daughter of Zion, wined and dined, desired by the Bridegroom. My hands are still trembling.