For this installment of Advent posts, I want to go back a few weeks . . .
It is late in the season of Ordinary Time. I am sitting in worship. Not in my usual home congregation but another setting.
I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into despair. I scribble on the order of worship “I can’t deconstruct worship and God enough today….” The liturgy and language give voice to a distant God, a male God, telling stories of “his” life, “his” power, “his” control. I feel no invitation. No welcome. There is nothing of the God I know or have experienced. Yet this is the common language and story told in worship in countless churches all around me. My despair is matched only by outrage. I feel walls of defense going up even as my arms cross and my jaw sets.
Then something surprising and unexpected happens. Several rows in front of me and across the aisle a woman stands and steps into the line to receive communion. In the crook of her right arm she holds a nursing infant. I had heard the crying earlier and was impressed at this young mother’s ability to soothe her child by nursing in public. (This was something I never learned to do in 16 months of nursing my own daughter. Now mind you I did it, but never with any genuine ease.) She is so comfortable that I give her little attention as the service unfolds. Instead I focus on my discomfort at being there.
Now as we turn our collective attention to the bread and wine, I find myself riveted by the stunning beauty of the scene before me. The young woman takes her turn stepping up to receive the body and blood of Christ even as her own body nourishes that of her child. In that moment all the anger and frustration at the shape of the service with its dismal language and inattention to people or real life, falls away. My tears bear witness to a profound embodiment of grace in the holiest of moments.
After the service I find the young woman and her husband. Turns out she is a pastor. This was a rare opportunity for her to receive communion rather that serve it. And to have her daughter with her was a gift in itself. Another surprising delight. I tell her what a beautiful moment her participation in worship created. I feel more than I can say.
It is Ordinary Time. But it is also a genuine Advent moment. In the midst of despair and outrage, waiting for nothing more than the service to come to a merciful end, I have been surprised by stunning joy and beauty. No matter how the church forgets its purpose to invite and make room, and no matter how much anger, despair or resentment I may feel about it, God’s grace and presence are still waiting just up ahead to stun me with delight. And invite me into a nourishing embrace.
From this week’s reading in the Hebrew Bible we find Isaiah 11:8 — The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
God, your inbreaking surprises and shocks us like a nursing child playing in a den of a vipers. Wake us up to your holy presence even in the midst of our despair and and rage.
This is the third in an eight-part series of Advent posts. They will appear twice each week until Christmas.