I whipped the SUV into the church parking lot and drove a little too quickly over the bump intended to impede speedy parishioners.
Ok, I’m dropping you off at the front door, I barked to Twins A and B. Just go in, get the mic, talk to Michelle about the order of service and sit and wait for me in the front row. I’ll park the car and be in, in a few. Don’t grab your name tags. We don’t have time.
Less than 12 hours earlier the three of us had sat on the couch in our living reviewing what we were to share during the lighting of the Advent candles – a lovely liturgy this time of year. But there’s nothing lovely and liturgical about me when it comes Scripture reading in front of a crowd. I morph into the Joan Crawford of Advent Candle Lighting Ceremonies. I lectured Twin A for racing through her passage and admonished Twin B for ignoring commas. The commas are there for a reason! I coached. And, we are supposed to come up with something to add here about love. You HAVE to say something about God and Jesus because it’s CHURCH. You can’t just throw the word ‘LOVE’ around without mentioning God.
Yeah. Pretty sure God was shaking His head at that lovely display of parental encouragement.
We finished rehearsing our parts and I said, By the way, here’s what we are doing for the Christmas Eve service. We might as well take a look now and run through it once.
We worked our way through Isaiah 53 and then called it a night.
Fast forward to the part where I was shoving my kids off at the front door.
I parked the car, raced into church and then commenced with the ever so awkward run/walk to the front row as the pastor uttered words about entering into worship. It was then that Twin A alerted me to the program and said, Michelle changed some things around. We go up and read here, and then you go up again and read your second reading.
She handed me a black readers theater notebook. I was staring at the Isaiah 53 reading.
My second reading? What do you mean my second reading?
This one from Isaiah. I don’t know, Mom! Twin A hissed back. She wrote it down here.
I looked around for the worship leader then run/walked over to her, trying to attract the least amount of attention a run/walker attracts during the prelude music.
Michelle, I whispered from the pew behind her. Twin A tells me I’m supposed to read from Isaiah? I thought Isaiah was for Christmas Eve. I’m not ready to read Isaiah!
Michelle turned and said in a calming voice, Don’t worry about it. There are four of you reading. You are Reader #2. You’ll be fine.
I put on my best smile and run/walked back to my front row seat as the organist was pumping out the last notes of the prelude.
Oh, Jesus, I whispered. I have no idea what I’m doing, but just use me. Get me out of the way of blowing any message you want people to hear this morning.
And God obliged as He often does when it comes to getting His message out. Twin A and B performed beautifully, mentioning God and Jesus in the same sentence as Love as their insane mother demanded, and we all managed to light the Advent candles without burning the place down. I sighed to myself. One down, one to go. I thought, and began looking over my Isaiah 53 script that I was to recite in less than three minutes.
But because God isn’t always into scripted things, God wasn’t done. No. God looks down at hysterical run/walking mamas who say such ridiculous things to their children as Listen to me! You have to mention Jesus when you talk about LOVE because it’s CHURCH! and says, Oh, honey, you aren’t getting off that easily.
Not only was I not prepared for the reading from a very odd prophet name Isaiah, I wasn’t prepared for was the next part of the service.
Our very new and very brave pastors have taken to an open mic time for praises and prayer requests. Those of you out there in church land know that open mics at church are like the Wild West of Theology. No one knows what will come out of people’s mouths. My lot is cast with the Methodists now, and Methodists are a pretty subdued bunch so things don’t get too titillating.
But, I don’t go to a typical Methodist Church.
I sat and listened as an older gentleman wept thanking the Lord for his new bride. People shared concerns about loved ones in the hospital and thanking God for bringing visitors to our midst.
A lovely saint stood and thanked God for marriages and for her friends’ who were celebrating 50 years together and challenged all of us to pray for marriages.
And then the Holy Spirit grabbed me and said It’s show time.
And I said, Holy Spirit, sit down and shut up.
And the Holy Spirit said, Make me.
And I said, I’m very good at ignoring God. I’ve had 44 years of experience.
The next thing I knew I was leaning over to Twin A and saying, Do you care if I say something about the divorce? And Twin A was replying, That’s fine, Mom.
And I raised my hand.
And I stood.
And I looked out at the people of my church.
And somewhere out of that created space we cannot see – that mysterious place from which words, good and bad, come – words started to tumble out. Not words that were written or rehearsed or repeated. Not powerful words that were pondered over, edited, written, erased and written again.
But simple words. Grateful words. Love Words.
Last year at this time, I was going through a divorce after 20 years of marriage. I didn’t know how I was going to do it financially or emotionally. I worried about my girls. But you were all here for me. My eyes started to well up with tears.
The church stared back at me. It was quiet.
Oh, Holy Spirit, I could just kill you! I thought.
They tried that on the cross years ago. It didn’t work, the Holy Spirit laughed back.
I don’t know where I’d be without this church, I continued. Without my Sunday school class. Without Lori and the DivorceCare group. God carried me, and He did it through you. You prayed for me. You prayed for the girls’ father, and I realize now it’s going to be okay. The girls’ Dad is going to be okay. He’s a great dad to them. He and I are friends. The girls are doing okay because of the love all of you have given all of us over the last year. I was wiping my eyes as quickly as I could, imagining the great lines of mascara careening down my cheeks.
And people started nodding. And people started crying.
And I know there are those of you out there who have been through this, and those who are going through this, and I just want you to know, that God has your back. And the people here at this church have your back.
And someone started to clap. And then someone else clapped. And I just looked out at the people whose love carried me back from the darkest, most jagged of brinks these past 365 days, and they were smiling and nodding and clapping.
The pastor repeated the line about God having my back. We sang a Christmas Carol. I along with three others walked up to the stage where the reading of Isaiah 53 went off without a hitch, I returned to my seat on the front row with my girls
The carpet in front of me lay riddled with stains from communion wine. I sat staring at the remnants from those moments when folks dip the bread in the chalice and walk away dripping the representation of the blood of Christ poured out for us onto the carpet.
And I smiled.
I dashed into church this morning thinking all that I needed to get through was lighting a few candles and quoting a few scriptures and demanding my daughters mention Jesus and Love in the same sentence because dammit, it was church!
But God didn’t want me to get through anything. God asked me to join Him in a Love Moment using Love Words.
Communion is Church. And Church is Communion. And God wants us to share it all with Him and with One Another. The Wedding Feasts. The Baby’s Birth. The Divorce. The Cancer. The Job Promotion. The Job Lost. The Mountain Top Experience and the Great Tumble Down off the Wagon. He is there when we joyfully take the cup and then run off and make a mess of things not three feet from the altar.
One by one after church people I’d never spoken to came up and shared their stories with me of divorce and heartache. So many older people who said, It’s not over, and their shared their stories of The Great Death and then The Great Redemption. I gave and received so many hugs and kisses. I cried. A grown man told me of his parents’ divorce when he was a child and assured me that he was okay because his parents loved him, and that my girls would be okay because they had parents who loved them. I wept. I heard over and over, Priscilla, you are so brave to share that.
But I wasn’t brave. I’m really not! I kept saying, I just wanted you all to know how much you all did for me and the girls. I just wanted you all to know that you carried me and that I love you.
And that is Advent. And that is Communion. And that is the story of Christmas. It’s the story of a baby who came into a big mess that we made ourselves and who drew us not only to Him but also to One Another. And then that baby grew up and offered Himself as a Sacrifice. And when He left he said, I’m coming back, but in the mean time, take care of one another because this world is going to beat you down.
Turns out I was right when I told my girls they had to mention God when they talked about Advent Love, but not because we were standing within the walls of the church where it is right and good and churchy, to talk about God, but because it is the Truth. Love watches over us when we eagerly grab the cup and say, I’m right there with you God, and it doesn’t leave us when we run from the altar leaving a mess of wine stains in our wake. It binds us together in word and in deed, and if Love had a face, it would be my church.