Written by Gradye Parsons
Each month the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Moderator or Vice Moderator of the 220th General Assembly write a column of general interest for the church-at-large.
We were anxiously watching the chunks of bread disappear from the silver plate. Good weather and the Holy Spirit had brought a very large crowd to Easter Sunday. The young woman serving the bread repeated the phrase “Bread of Heaven” as her family, neighbors, church brothers and sisters walked solemnly up the aisle. I have known her since she was a little girl and watched her family and the church nurture her into a beautiful, young Christian woman. In her young hands was the Easter bread representing 2,000 years of witness and remembrance.
In the Book of Joshua, chapter four, we have the story of the crossing of the Jordan. Joshua instructs one man from each tribe to take up a stone from the river. The stones are to serve as memory keepers so that when their children ask “What do these stones mean to you?” you will say… .
Part of the good work of a congregation is to answer these questions. What does God mean to you? What does Christ mean to you? Who is the Holy Spirit? What does it mean to say Bread of Heaven? These questions are answered before eager eyes and ears that are watching for the correlation between word and witness.
The Gospel of John says in the beginning was the Word and that Word was God. Later it says that Word became flesh and lived among us. The Word and the questions and the witness in the flesh are the sum of a congregational life well-lived. It is a life that translates by its actions that it remembers in gratitude what God has done in Jesus Christ and lives that life out of joyful grace toward others. In that joy-filled grace lives young and old encounter the Bread of Heaven that has nourished the church through the ages.
Word, questions, and witness. These are the gifts of God for the people of God. Come, all is ready again.
Question 129 from the Heidelberg Catechism (revised version) says the little word “Amen” means: “This shall truly and surely be! It is even more sure that God listens to my prayer than that I really desire what I pray for.”
The image this brings to me is of a patient parent listening to a child who is asking for something that is exactly not what the child needs. Listening is a spiritual gift. Most of us hear but fewer of us actually listen.
The lectionary gospel text for Ash Wednesday this year is Matthew 6:1–6. The first verse of which is: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”
This is an interesting verse to think about when you leave a worship space with ashes smeared on your head. What does the ash cross on our forehead say to others? I suppose that people who are Christians have some idea what it is about. Many times we forget that it is there and wonder why people are looking at our heads.
Cold creates community. I drive past a bus stop every day. It is where two routes cross so there are usually several people gathered. Normally they are pretty good about respecting each other’s space. The polar vortex has changed that. They have packed themselves into the little bus shelter like sardines for warmth and to avoid the wind.
You could probably make the same case for warm weather that sends us to the beach in droves, for opening day in baseball, and for fall foliage drives that become bumper-to-bumper. There is common interest like a stream heading in one direction, and before you know it the stream has created all kinds of communities of floating things.
Abraham Lincoln said “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” I wonder if Abe would say that today with our high-speed high-definition world. To review the speed at which the first home computer became today’s tablet does seem to reflect a future that shows up faster and faster. I also wonder if the president had the same patience for the news of the American Civil War ending. Everything I have read says he did not.