By any reckoning you would have to say it was a typical morning. The two earlier services were quite fine; the message from the associate pastor was especially good, the music was spirit-filled and a sense of unity pervaded the house. But none of that is so unusual, at least not around the place where I live and serve.
I was presiding at the communion table again, an act long familiar to me and anyone who darkens the door of our church. Like usual, the people processed in and set the table, bringing forward the gifts of bread, wine, and the work of our hands, our offerings. There it was, piled in front of us, the gifts of God for the people of God and the gifts of the people for the work of God. In one way or another it all comes from God and all returns to God.
Just as I began to speak I heard the patter of little feet approaching the table. In our congregation the children also bring forward their own offering. Their gifts include monetary gifts but just as often some other expression, like some art work they worked on during the message. It all goes into their plate and one of the children walks it forward. Though they were just a tad late to the party, in God’s time it was just on time. Sure baby, put your plate right here, we’ve been waiting for you, we’ll place it right on top.
Let’s see, where was I? I was about to issue an invitation for people to approach the mystery of Christ under the auspicious of bread and wine, a gathering of hungry people who know where to sate that hunger, a remembering that brings everything forward and eats with glad and generous hearts. I was just about to say some reasonably inspiring adult thing when I looked down at the children’s offering plate that perched on top of all the other plates.
Covering everything else was a hand-scrawled crayon drawing. Rather than press on I allowed myself to be distracted and then made the highly questionable decision to reach out and pick the drawing up in order to view it more closely. The Gospel story of the morning included the healing of the woman with the flow of blood, a woman who had suffered and struggled so desperately that she just knew if she could touch even the hem of Jesus’ clothing that would be enough. Just the hem. And that was the drawing, a figure of a woman kneeling, reaching out to touch with those hopeful hands. And suddenly Atlantis arose out of the sea and nested somewhere midway between my adult head and childlike heart.
It was not the quality of the art, of course. I have seen the great masterpieces in their museums and churches. I was not moved because some great personal emotional moment had come like the witnessing the last breath of someone you love. I have had those moments, too. And the tears that choked me did not pour out with pathos at some great occasion, like the vast inhumanity in Syria or elsewhere. No, this was something of a different order.
What sat on the top of the plate was a child’s overhearing of the Gospel, a distillation of the most simple thing, that if we reach there is something reaching back. The forms that reaching and reaching back can take are as numerous as the stars. But it’s all there in its essence and simplicity.
After I choked out how moved I was by this child’s mite, I said something like touching the hem of Jesus is like touching a crust of bread or sipping this wine; that’s all it takes, it is enough.
I am really not sure why I felt the hot breath of the spirit on my neck at that moment. And it really doesn’t matter why. Some of the deepest, brightest, show-stopping moments in any day arrive on their own terms and with their own chosen delivery system. That morning it was through an angel with very little hands and feet, one who was somehow catching a mystery that has sustained millions, and by doing so, without knowing it, was sustaining me.