On Wednesday, Kristiana and I went to our favorite Wednesday noon church service. My awesome and beautiful friend, Katie, is a minister at a church in the center of Charlotte, and she offers a thoughtful and challenging message each week. On the first Wednesday of each month, Communion is served. "The table is set," she informs us. "These are the gifts of God for the people of God. Come, let us keep the feast." With those simple words, we are invited to "come to the table."
Because I want to be as close to Katie as possible, Kristiana and I always sit in the first row. We are the first people to rip off a hunk of fresh bread, dip it into the grape juice, and feast on the symbols of the broken body of our loving Lord. Then we slip back into our seats and wait, watching the other followers of The Way come and partake.
This week, something miraculous happened as I sat there. As I watched, I felt my awareness of each of the parishoners heightened and sensitized. A line of anonymous people suddenly became a processional of weary, hungry travelers. "They" became "we." I wondered how I had missed them for so long. No matter - I immediately began to pray for those who waited in line and those who were eating the bread. I prayed for their families, their job situations, their health, their fears, and all that could possibly be on their hearts and minds.
And for a brief moment, I felt it all. I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotions and tears filled my eyes.
For just an instant:
I saw the overweight woman - and felt the pain and shame and fear and invisibility and anguish of being overweight in our society with its obsession with thinness.
I saw the balding man with scars on his face - and felt that pain of his anxiety about how he looks in a world where every man is compared to Brad Pitt.
I saw the gentleman in his 50's - and felt the pain and fear of job loss in this nation with its weak economy. What if he loses his job and joins the millions who are facing mortgage crises?
I saw the young couple that comes each week - and felt the weight of their relationship. What do their families expect of them at this time of year? Whose family do we visit? Whose family do we see first?
I saw the young black woman - and felt her self-consciousness in a world where white and blonde and thin are the standards of beauty.
I saw the young black man in his suit and starched white shirt - and thought of all the black men who, no matter how they are dressed or what they do for a living, are seen as threatening, dangerous, and therefore, suspected of some unsolved crime.
I saw them all, pastors, business people, unemployed, full-time moms, full-time dads, people teetering on the edge of joblessness and homelessness - and I felt the deep agony of the human condition.
The fear and doubts.
The disappointments and despair.
The loneliness and angst.
The overwhelming busyness of this time of year.
I heard the questions that plague us all:
Who am I? Why am I here?
Who sees me? Who knows me?
Who loves me? Who hates me?
Why am I so afraid and lonely?
Who cares that I am alive?
Who would notice if I disappeared from my job and neighborhood?
Fortunately, the feeling passed quickly. I don't know how long I could have sat there without bursting into tears. Without crying aloud for the mercy of God to be felt by every person there. Outwardly, I dropped my head and took a deep breath. Inwardly, I pleaded for mercy for all of us. And I gave thanks that the One who bears our burdens, the One who cares for us, He is the One who invites us to partake and who gave His life that we might live, who emptied Himself that we might be filled. What wondrous love is this...
I thanked God that I don't have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I thanked God that He was there with me and with all of us at that moment. At this moment. And for all time.
And most of all, I thanked God that to all of us,
the weary and worn,
the tired and tempted,
the lonely and unloved,
the bereaved and beleaguered,
the unemployed and the unnoticed,
the insured and the ignored,
the frustrated and fat,
the rich and poor,
the healthy and the ill,
the glad and the sorrowful,
to each of us, the message, the invitation is the same:"Come to the table."
There we were. Here we are. Standing in line.
Waiting for The Bread of Life.
The fruit of the vine - the life-giving blood of our Lord.
Hoping it doesn't run out.
Knowing somehow, in the deepest place, that it never will.
Thanks be to God.