Today, I am not in church.
That wouldn't seem like much of a much except this is the first time since November 4, 2007, that I haven't been in church on a Sunday. A week of being flat on my back, thermometer pushing 102-degrees, and my nasal cavity feeling as if someone had packed it with cotton balls has kept me at home. I am sad about missing church this Sunday with the music and prayers and participating in the Eucharist. Yet I know it is better for my health...not to mention the health of others... that I stay away and have communion with God in a different way.
My morning has been spent prepping for tomorrow night's gathering of our Education for Ministry group. With my co-mentor out-of-commission for these first few weeks, the responsibility of leading this crew of curious learners has fallen squarely on my shoulders. I was considering the lesson that EfM instructs to happen with people in Year Two. They are to view a performance, or read aloud themselves, the entire Gospel of Mark. For the past few years, we haven't done this exercise in our group. But given that I have been pretty well wiped out this past week, I thought, "Tomorrow would be a perfect time to do this!" It takes some preparation load off my head, and it gives us an activity that we can do as a whole group.
And it incorporates an important piece into what makes us who we are as Christians: the telling of our story.
As I was reading the Gospel of Mark this morning, I was struck once more with its all-action, "Jesus on the move" narrative style. This is the Jesus who has no time to waste. He's on a mission, he's single-minded, and he's going forward with it. His disciples serve almost like the comic relief of this particular play. They've dropped everything to follow around after him like groupies. He lets them in on his mission plans, but they don't really seem to "get it". He doesn't let their slowness get in his way. He doesn't let naysayers and doubters dissuade him either. And he gets into it with the Syrophoenician woman... which happened to be the gospel lesson assigned for this morning's service. She is one of my favorite characters: an outsider, a woman who hears of Jesus' healing powers and wants him to aid her sick daughter only to have Jesus use the slur "dog" in his rebuke of her request. Undaunted, the woman tells Jesus that she may be a "dog", but even the dogs eat of the crumbs falling from Israel's table. Such a gutsy and gritty woman is rewarded... a signal to those listening to this story that even the supposedly UNchosen are still worthy of the grace that comes from God.
It's pretty easy to dismiss the gospels and much of anything we read in Scripture as tales that have no bearing on 21st century life. But what if we actually see in these stories reflections of our own lives? What if we see the Syrophoenician woman as being like us at those times when we've gone to higher authority to plead our case for justice, and when told to get lost, instead demand that we be found? What if we acknowledge that, when it comes to Christ, we can be just as clueless as his disciples in saying we "get it" about God being all about Love, and about us taking care of one another... only to fail to live into that standard in how we interact with people and the planet? In other words, what if we plugged ourselves into these stories to see how alive they are and acknowledge them as a running commentary on the human condition rather than concrete factoids of history?
In making this type of connection, I think it brings meaning to the reason we have churches at all. I mean, why in the world would I feel the need and desire to give up my Sunday morning for church but for the fact that I have come to value my place in the story of Christ. Is there a character that is exactly me in the gospels? Sometimes, I see myself in more than one character. Often times, I find myself smiling in recognition of things happening in the stories that are reminiscent of stuff from my own experience. I feel like I'm part of something greater than myself. And standing along side others, singing and praying with them, sharing in the Eucharisitic feast, it gives me that sense of "We're all in this together." Not just those in the church, but the larger community, too. We ALL are in this together.
I'll be happy to rejoin my congregation next Sunday. Being absent has made me appreciate the meaning of that commitment.