GROWING IN GRACE
It’s 1:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon. I’ve finished my lunch and settled in for another routine Sunday afternoon filled with reading and writing and baseball whenever I’m not chasing my 16-month-old daughter around the house. By all accounts it’s a typical Sunday afternoon except for the fact that this particular afternoon didn’t follow a typical Sunday morning worship service. You see, I felt the Spirit of God this morning in a way I’ve haven’t experienced for some time. And it all came about because of a simple change in rhythm.
This month at Mulberry we’re changing the rhythms of worship a bit. We’ve asked for people to submit their favorite hymns – preferably ones they haven’t heard in worship in a while. We received a good many submissions so we’ve decided to tweak our order of worship a bit to include more singing each Sunday during the month of July.
Maybe the change of rhythm was at fault, but I found myself noticing things in worship I’ve never noticed.
As we listened to a wonderful soloist, I noticed a mother and her 8-year-old son on the fourth pew. The son had his head settled in his mother’s lap for the music. The mother sat and gently stroked the hair on the back of his neck. And for a moment, while everyone around her was focused on what was happening in front of them, she seemed to be taken to a special place. I watched as she stared at the back of her son’s neck gently stroking his hair relishing in a moment where her baby who was too big to be called a baby anymore found quiet rest in her arms. He soon will be much too big for these moments and yet, by God’s grace, they found this moment in the place and space where we worship the eternal God. And I got to peek into this moment where the in-breaking of God’s grace was quietly evident for this family.
My senses must have been heightened after that because I couldn’t help but see grace in other moments during the worship service – in the face of a squirming child; in the quiet dedication of couples who had been married much longer than I’ve been alive who innately know how to worship together; in the faces of families facing loss and heartache and stress and yet know that they need to be in worship even if they can’t fully explain it.
Grace, present and palpable, was all around us.
Holy Communion was especially grace-filled. I found myself noticing peoples’ hands as they took the bread and dipped it into the cup.
“This is the body of Christ broken for you…”
Hands of all shapes and sizes and ages. Some were young and delicate. Some trembled as they approached and were visibly worn because years of love and work and dedication have a way of leaving its proof on our hands.
“This is the blood of Christ shed for you…”
I saw children bounce up the stairs to our chancel area to join their families around the altar for prayer. I saw young couples at the very genesis of adulthood kneeling together in prayer. I noticed one woman slowly make her way up the stairs with the aid of her cane. Aches and pain and a lack of mobility would not dare keep her from the altar of prayer.
We fit some more hymn requests into the communion time. Soon I heard the words of one of my all-time favorite hymns begin to add even more depth to the tapestry of this scene of grace.
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!...”
“This is the body and blood of Jesus Christ, broken and poured out for your sins and the sins of the world…”
I saw faces in the communion line light up as the congregation sang. Everyone began to sing that hymn particularly loud. It was as if we all knew that through this sacrament – this simple bread and grape juice – we were, in fact, sharing in a foretaste of God’s eternal glory.
The sacrament ended and we closed the Table. Timing worked out perfectly to where we had one more verse to sing together before we could proceed.
“Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my Savior and happy and blest. Watching and waiting, looking above. Filled with his goodness, lost in his love. This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.”
By the time we finished no one needed to say a word. We knew this worship service was delightfully surprising. Together we gave thanks for the holy meal and asked God to send us out into the world in the service of others. You could almost hear in the collective recitation of the prayer that this particular sending forth carried with it a certain hope and enthusiasm.
You know, we spend a great deal of time worrying and trying to brainstorm new ways to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We even run the risk of programming and gimmicking ourselves to death. Today I was reminded that our most basic (and primary) act as disciples is to faithfully offer ourselves in worship to the God who alone is worthy to be praised. So I challenge you to consider shifting your rhythms of worship and look around and listen. God is there, active and present, calling us all to be a people of worship. We are called to gather in praise. We hear God’s Word. We share in the holy meal together. And we are sent forth into the world to offer ourselves in service to all of God’s children.
Sounds to me like the very heart of worship is also at the heart of discipleship.
The Rev. Ben Gosden is an associate pastor at Mulberry Street United Methodist Church in Macon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.