(Christian Courier column, July 11, 2016)
Mona Simpson, novelist and Steve Jobs’s sister, once said, “The tincture of life most rarely found in art is happiness.” That quote was on my mind as I read the final story in Lawrence Dorr’s anthology, A Bearer of Divine Revelation (CC, July 11, 2016). At the celebration of his fiftieth wedding anniversary, narrator Laszlo, a traumatized former POW, recalls the individuals, and especially his wife Meg, who gently salved his suppurating afflictions, each one an “angel of His Presence.” He partakes in the Eucharist with an intensified awareness that here, in church, a “door in heaven was opened a crack for him to behold that which was to come: a place for them to gather where love, forgiveness, and peace sang, where hurt, pain, anger, and bad dreams were no more.” Dorr conveys the happiness of worship in such a believable and tender way that perhaps even Mona Simpson would be satisfied.
No doubt you’ve already heard a lot about Synod. The Banner’s Gayla Postma wrote, “Synod 2016 showed a church increasingly diverse and also increasingly divided.” But, before all the weighty discussions, I experienced a happy hour at Synod (ok, don’t get the wrong idea – grin) worshipping on Sunday in the Calvin College chapel. As my friend Diane and I entered the crowded sanctuary, fresh with yellow and purple blooms, the atmosphere was lively. Bubbly greetings, hugs and handshakes all around.
The Oakland University Brass, Calvin College Alumni Choir and other gifted musicians set the tone for uplifting praise — Mendelssohn, Bach and “Lead On, O King Eternal.” When we sang “Holy, Holy, Holy!” I was so enraptured I dared a descant, something I’m usually far too self-conscious to attempt. The triumphant music was complemented by expressive Scripture readings and a well-crafted, well-delivered message on “One Holy Church.”
We celebrated Holy Communion. The flow of the congregation to the Table was dynamic, almost processional, with a diversity of believers. A young guy with a ruddy beard, t-shirt and plaid shorts preceded me while a sophisticated woman with perfectly arranged silver curls came behind. I shared a humorous moment with the elder serving me the bread. As I tried to tear off a bit of the loaf, the crusty texture confounded me, requiring a sturdy, irreverent tug. The elder and I grinned at each other in silent merriment.
Why bother you with this secondhand church service? To spotlight how glad I was to be there. How privileged. Not to deny or minimize that a solemn grief bounded this hour of fellowship. The Orlando massacre had occurred in the early hours of the same day. Many CRC members were anxiously awaiting a verdict in the Tim Bosma case. In the pews were some, I knew, cradling their own suppurating wounds. But like embattled Paul in his prison cell, rejoice we did, baring our scars, bearing our hope.
So, when you read all the reports and opinions about Synod 2016, please keep this recollection in the mix. God was among us. He was exalted. The Body and Blood of Christ was shared. The Holy Spirit wafted the banners, moved in the music, smiled in the tinkling of tiny glasses dropped in a silver bowl.
With Laszlo, I saw the door of heaven opening a crack. I heard “love, forgiveness and peace” singing. With all the saints, I confessed the Word made flesh who dwelt among us and is now seated at the right hand of God.
In his victory I can live eschatologically, at peace within ambivalence, within the uncertain context of what Synod 2016 has done and what future synods may do, within the tension of past, present and future. I can offer respect to those who can’t live within those variable parameters, who seek either wider or more restrictive boundaries. I can strive, however falteringly, to be an “angel of His Presence” to all God’s children, those gathered around the Table and those who, for whatever reason, are not. Such flawed human love, as Laszlo reflects in the churchyard, is “a poor but glorious imitation of the redeeming Love that had made possible, in spite of everything, the overwhelming joy of the earth.”