We have a tradition in our community of believers. On the second Sunday of July we do not have worship at our church but rather the community is expected to worship in another church in the area. Some go out individually while some go in small groups. We are encouraged to worship in a church that may be a bit out of our comfort zone or perhaps just a church that we always ‘wondered’ about.
Last year a few of us attended Vintage 21. This is an ACTS 29 church and is a must attend for anyone who fears — or contends — that emergent churches are somehow relinquishing any claim to solid, conservative, evengelical theology. The message was clear and undiluted… and the music was top-notch.
The one hitch in the giddy-up I experienced during my visit to Vintage 21 was their approach to communion. Row by row, individuals went to the back and through a short hallway. From a bowl on a small table, each individual took a piece of bread and dipped it in a bowl of juice next to the bread. Having supped, each individual made their individual way back to their individual seat. I thought to my individual self, “that sucked.” I have grown to so much appreciate communion as a, well… as a communal engagement. There are hugs, smiles and more hugs. Afterall, the community just took part in a wonderful reenactment of community.
Well, this year my son and I decided to attend a worship service with the Saint Sharbel Mission. This is a Maronite (Lebanese Catholic) church. St. Sharbel is a small church community. There were maybe forty or fifty in the pews including children. In many ways it was a typical Catholic service. There was a good deal of ritual and a liberal dose of incense, for which I have yet to develope a nose. There was singing; no instruments, but much singing. Some was in English and some in Aramaic. These people can sing. The message concerned the violence and oppression back home and relating it to the persecution of their patron saint who was martyred. The message was a brief fifteen minutes or so.
The most powerful experience for me… well, there was actually two. Hearing the Lord’s Prayer in the original tongue was incredibly moving. I am still surprised how moving that was. The second is the children. The biggest, darkest brown eyes. These are the eyes Jesus looked into in Matthew 19:13. There was no effort to send the children to nursery or children’s church. Nope, they were there, right where Jesus wanted them. As I think about it, there was a third powerful experience. I had never been a part of ‘passing the peace’. How they passed the peace began with the Priest. With his hands in the typical praying pose — palms together and fingers extended outward — he said a short blessing and approached the ‘deputy’ Priest. The main Priest opened his fingers just enough in order to clasp the similarly posed hands of the second Priest for a few moments saying a few words of greeting. The second Priest then repeated this with someone in the front row who in turn repeated it with their neighbor. This quickly spread around the room. Passing the peace — cool!
While I am not a stiff ritualistic type person, my experience this past Sunday was a powerful one. I am without a doubt, as I looked around at the faces of my brothers and sisters in that room, that there too was Jesus.