Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Sunday: Welcome to the Table

I sent this to members of our congregation in anticipation of Easter Sunday.  I've been wanting to for a long time.
Grace and Peace to you in the name of Christ,

I am looking forward to worshiping with you this Sunday and worshiping in the presence of the risen Jesus.
When we gather at the Lord's Table this Sunday, all are invited to participate.  It has always been our practice to welcome everyone to the table, but we are not always explicit about what that means; people still ask if they are welcome if they are unbaptized, if they have never taken Communion before, if they are too young.  I'm here to tell you that everyone means everyone.  Jesus does not place limits on the welcome.

To that end, we have made efforts to make the bread allergen free (but still delicious) and serve juice as the 'fruit of the vine' in lieu of wine.  Because we have wanted to include children in a special way, we have often offered a grape and a cracker.  However the more I've thought about this (and feel free to challenge me) the more this feels like not inclusion in but exclusion from the open table.  Children have been receiving something less-than, something that marks them as set apart from the people who are really welcomed. I've observed that teens sometimes just opt out altogether - not a kid who eats crackers, but not quite an adult whom the place at the table is more obvious.  So this Sunday we will not have grapes and crackers. 

The invitation to the bread and the cup is for all of God's children, young and old.  To you who have been baptized, may this Communion meal be a re-affirmation of your commitment to Christ and the body of Christ.  To you are seeking, may you find in this meal an invitation.  To you who are hungry, may this meal feed you, as Jesus fed the crowd.  To you who have never participated before, may this meal be the first bite in a feast that goes on and on.  May it be all these things and more as we eat and drink together as the family of God.

The more I hear and read about how other contemporary Mennonite churches commemorate the Lord's Supper, the more I realize that in spite of a history that put limits on participation in Communion, there is no longer (if there ever was) a prescription for how to celebrate this meal.  Our hope in this congregation is to be a place of radical welcome and hospitality.  Our call to be a people that welcomes is rooted in the wide open welcome that God gives to us and that we are shown in the love, life, teaching, healing, preaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, summed up and symbolized in 'Whenever you do this, remember me.'
A holy Holy week to you :)

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Voice of the Gardener

"I’ve been through childbirth, I can handle this." I thought, as I lay on on the table in the gynecologist’s office, trying to relax and breathe and hold it together through the pain I was experiencing.  And then I thought, "But then I was rewarded with a baby.  This is like giving birth to nothing.  To death."
I was taking the final step in physically moving on from my miscarriage.  I was in on the doctor's table having a D&C to remove the ‘products of conception’ that had been stubbornly hanging on (even multiplying, as if there was still a life to support) even though it had been two weeks since I learned of my miscarriage and likely at least a month since it had happened.  I say it was the final physical step because although I had been thinking about 1:00 Friday, March 1 being the end of it, of course it’s not the end at all.  I had been mostly avoiding thinking about it, diverting questions about how I was feeling (I’m fine, let’s get on with the meeting) and focusing on work and the medical follow-ups.  So I was a little caught off guard by my own powerful grief during the D&C.  I knew it would hurt physically.  I was unprepared for how much it would hurt emotionally.

I had met with a midwife once early on, and although I cancelled this month's appointment with her, I got in touch with her because it was important for me to hear her perspective and her thoughts on miscarriage.  I thought, and I was right, that she might offer a somewhat more holistic sense of what might be happening in me.  And when I talked to her on the day before the D&C and she said to me, "You’ll always remember the due date.  You’ll always get a little pang."  She reminded me that might keep feeling it in different ways.

A congregation member whose sister died this past summer asked for prayer this week as she and others encounter new levels of grief now, these many months after the death.  I can’t really equate the loss of this pregnancy to the death of a beloved wife and sister.  But in terms of the way grief lingers and presents itself in nuanced ways, perhaps there is a correlation.  That pang will return and I will feel it in different ways when I remember the loss of this one-that-almost-was, this dream of someone to be.

The midwife also told me (it was almost the first thing she said), “It’s not your fault.”  I think it was after I heard that that I began to realize that even though I knew intellectually that there was nothing that I had done or not done that had caused the miscarriage, that I was feeling shame and guilt at the loss.  I have for so long conditioned myself to not be ashamed – not of who I am, not of what I feel, of my actions – that I am still somewhat incredulous that shame could be an emotion that I feel at all.  I feel shame that my body failed me, I feel shame that what I announced with joy and excitement turned out to be a lie, shame that there was indeed nothing I could have done to prevent this loss.

It may have been these feelings of shame that fueled the internal voice that asked, ‘Does this mean maybe that more kids just aren’t in the books?’  I tell myself that I don’t believe in signs, but on the other hand I was thinking, 'Maybe what we’ve said all along – that we’re just a one-kid family – is what we need to keep saying.'  I told myself, that maybe my body just doesn’t want to do this – can’t do it.  And maybe God doesn’t want us to do it either.

In the midst of all of this, in preparation for writing a sermon, I have been dwelling with the Luke 13 parable of the barren fig tree, the owner who wants to root it out and the gardener who asks for one more year to dig around it, add fertilizer, tending in with the hope of fruitfulness in the future.  The beauty of Jesus’ parables is how their meanings can have a depth that you never would have anticipated.  I need this parable this week.  I was hearing the voice of the fig tree’s owner in the shame of a failed and ended pregnancy and in all my questions and doubt.  I needed the voice of the gardener.  And I heard it, again from the mouth of my midwife, saying that perhaps I could understand this as a sign not of failure but of my body’s readiness.  My body has told me of its ability to be fertile and that it was only the timing that was not right.  The garden only needs to be further tended.

The pain is still pretty near the surface.  The doubt has not gone away.  Unearthing shame?  Way easier said than done.  However, having heard the gardener’s gentle challenge, I have an easier time understanding the grace that is offered by Jesus in this parable.  There still room and time and means for the tree to bear fruit.  I need to keep listening to that voice.