Grace to you, and peace, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I make my way into a hospital room, or an assisted living apartment, or a hospice bedside, and more and more frequently I find a vase filled with beautiful flowers. During these recently cold days, and in situations often filled with the chill of sickness or death, sitting in the midst of the room is this brightness. Inevitably someone will say something to the effect of, “The nicest person from the church came by and brought me these flowers and stayed and visited. It made my day. Aren’t they beautiful?”
They are beautiful, almost as beautiful as the folks who lovingly take apart the Sunday morning arrangements, rearrange them in smaller vases, and take them out to those who could not be a part of the worship, but who are very much a part of the community. There is such beauty in their service, motivated by a deep love for all God’s children and a desire to share some small part of the beauty of the worship experience with others. The flowers may only last a while, but the love and care that they represent, and the God whose glory is reflected in the beauty of the rose, is eternal. Thank you to those who faithfully create the stunning arrangements each week that lift our hearts to God, and thank you to those who come every Monday to spread the power and unity of that worship to other members of our community.
I thought of our flower ministry as I went out with two of our elders to share communion with some of our members who are not able to be in worship. I want to thank the entire session for taking seriously the responsibility of distributing communion both within and outside the sanctuary each month. As we share in breaking bread and pouring the cup, no matter the setting, we are giving witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ, and expressing the unity of the church across time and space. We are walking in the light of the coming Kingdom of heaven.
We have been living with the Sermon on the Mount in worship now for several weeks. I always come away from the encounter challenged by the words of Christ, who bids us to “be perfect (complete, whole), even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The context of this command is, of course, his admonition to love our enemies – but the larger context is the Sermon as a whole, where he invites us to see the fullness of the kingdom of heaven, which, even though it has not fully arrived, sheds its light in our time. We can live by its coming light even now. Even now, we can turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, love our enemies, and thus fulfill the intention of the law. When we do, we experience the wholeness (perfection) that is God’s gift.
I thought the canticle on Sunday captured this sense of the Sermon on the Mount perfectly, as the MAP 410 Choir (Grades 4-6) sang “Amazing Grace” while the Chancel and Chapel Adult Choirs sang “O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing.” This “Quod Libet” combines voices, tunes, and texts in a way that creates both dissonance and, hopefully out of the dissonance, a new sound and a new understanding. The Sermon on the Mount, I think it is safe to say, creates no small amount of dissonance, and yet for those who live by grace, it holds a transformative possibility for newness of life in community, and great hope for the world. Continued thanks go out to our extremely gifted singers, musicians, and leaders – from the bell peal and French horn prelude to the hymns and anthems, our worship is always rich feast for both ear and eye.
After dining on such rich fare, we are empowered by our encounter with the kingdom come in Jesus Christ to go out into the world, bearing gifts like flowers, bread and wine, a smile, a kind word, a prayer for healing, a hope for peace. We are able, as the communion liturgy says, to “go out into the world and be the Body of Christ.”
At 11:00, as Madelyn Grace Stivers blinked away baptismal waters and gazed out in infant wonder at the font, the crowd of children on the front row straining to see and remember, and a beaming congregation freshly awed at the miracle of God’s grace – her middle name seemed most appropriate. After all, it is our name as well.