I've had a couple of moments in worship services lately that I can't get out of my mind. In both cases, I had a powerful sense of the presence of God, as I repeated actions and words I've done and said hundreds of time. These are not the only times I felt this way, but they've fallen pretty close together and they've just made me think.
The first was at a communion service. I've been saying, "the blood of Christ, shed for you," or some alternative phrase, for years and thought nothing of it. But this time, I was painfully aware of someone in the congregation with whom I have a problem. It's not a personal issue, exactly, but it is one that's deeply rooted and not likely to get resolved. You'll have to trust that I am not quite as arrogant as I sound when I say that I'm right, and this person's wrong, and that's just how it is.
It is my practice to make eye contact with as many people as I can...there is a powerful intimacy in being told face-to-face that we are receiving the cup of salvation, the sacrament of forgiveness, etc. I never force it on anyone but just allow our eyes to meet. So, that said, in the case of this one person, I have found it all but impossible to make eye contact. I don't want to. I'm praying about that, but I'm also satisfied that God is present in the sacrament, and that these ancient ritual words have an intrinsic meaning and life that does not depend on me.
So this time, when this person reached me, there was still no eye contact, but I really tried to say, "this is the blood of Christ, shed for you," like I meant it. And somehow I sort of felt like maybe I did, or maybe God meant it in me. I don't really know how to describe it. It was sort of like there was room enough in this intimate moment with God for us both. Christ in the bread and wine (okay, juice, I am Methodist after all) and in the congregation gathered to worship somehow overpowered my reluctance and my discomfort. It was a grace-filled and gracious moment, in which I felt that my issues with this individual were not a bar to God's presence with us both. And that felt okay. I didn't have to feel close to him, I didn't feel so much like we shared an intimate moment with one another, but it made me aware of how God works through us, sometimes in spite of us.
Okay, so that's the first moment.
The second one came during our Ash Wednesday service. I was struck this year, as never before, by the intimacy of the imposing of ashes. We come forward spiritually laid bare, to be marked for mourning with the cross, a sign of both death and resurrection. In the past, I've used the traditional, "repent and believe the gospel," but this year said something less condemning and more affirming: "the grace of Jesus Christ be with you."
I mentioned in the last Friday Five that I had one funny moment, when a gentleman with minimal hair on top reflexively tried to move his hair out of my way, after watching his wife do the same. Some years ago, I had another, when I reached under the bangs of a dear lady in the church, only to knock her wig very slightly askew. I didn't know she wore one, honestly. I pretended nothing happened, and she made a subtle and deft repair...but that's beside the point.
Ash Wednesday is also a time when I like to make eye contact as I meet each person...it's been harder in the past because the traditional words can be perceived as harsh, although I've always tried to imbue them with grace. This year, though, as I marked each person, we looked at one another, with solemnity mostly, with the occasional smile, with a couple of pairs of teary eyes. Each of us shared a different moment, but each was intimate in its way. We were bound by that ashen cross, and by the gospel, which was in that moment truly good news of new life in the face of death, of grace in the face of our sin, of forgiveness that has no end.
I feel like in some way these moments were for me, as much as for anyone else, that the sense I try to convey in worship leadership that we're having a joint encounter with Christ, was turned on its ear...that while I was trying to help others experience with God, I too was having my own experience. Crap...it all sounds so selfish. I can't quite find the words. It was good, though. Really good.