A few days after my mother died, I went to church. I wasn’t preaching so I thought I would be okay being there for worship. Many people said, “Why are you here?” or “You shouldn’t be here.” They meant well. But where else would I go in the early days of grief? Yes, church is where I work and this one is still new to me. However, church is more than a job for me; it’s a place of healing, hope, and hospitality among other thing.
After Jesus fed the 5000, he talked about the “bread of life” and how the eating of it leads to eternal life. The disciples were confused by all of this. Jesus spoke words that didn’t make sense. Those who heard seemed to have sensed that Jesus meant something beyond his actual words. They began to understand that Jesus was inviting them into, calling them to participate in a mystery beyond their knowing. Some walked away unable to hear more than the words which sounded cannibalistic. Some remained skeptics and maybe hung back in the shadows for a bit. Others, like Peter, responded to Jesus’ question of, “Do you also wish to go?” with “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
There’s a lot going around the internet these days about church and what church goers say they want and how to get new (and younger) folks to come in. The truth is that this odd little passage in John’s gospel holds the answer. It’s what made me feel compelled to be in church just days after my mother died. It’s that mystery that we are called to be a part of.
Jesus didn’t just talk to people. Jesus responded to their needs in very real ways. He fed people. He healed people. He offered hope. Out of a crowd of strangers he created what would become the early church, the body of Christ that lives on eternally. Church isn’t about entertainment, incorporating technology, or other splashy touches. Church happens when a group of strangers become community. How, exactly, community forms is a bit of a mystery. But I do know that it is based on authenticity that is grounded in Truth, the same Truth that Jesus embodied and spoke out loud and created such a deep longing in the disciples that they could not imagine going anywhere else. Yes, the same Truth that transformed that hungry, needy, anxious, confused crowd into the body of Christ. The same Truth that is still at work in the world today transforming us, the hungry, anxious, needy confused crowds of today.
I went to church four days after my mother’s death not out of any professional obligation, but out of a deep need for those words of eternal life. I needed to immerse myself in that Mystery, to be reminded that there is healing, hope, and hospitality. I find these things in a community that knows it is somewhere between the needy crowd and the eternal body of Christ.
Now all we have to do is authentically invite people into the Mystery that is our God and accept the fact that some will walk away, some will hang in the shadows, and some will respond with their whole lives.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O God of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of God;
my heart and my flesh
sing for joy to the living God.
RCL – Year B- Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2015
1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 with Psalm 84 or
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 with Psalm 34:15-22