"God Shows Up" – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
A couple years ago I asked a mother of twin boys at what point she wanted her kids to take a first communion class and start receiving the bread and wine during communion. She said she wasn’t sure if they were ready because she didn’t think they understood what communion was. She also told me they were too immature and not ready. It took another year of persistent questioning, but finally she agreed. They, along with some other kids and their parents, showed up every Saturday for three weeks as we talked about the sacrament of communion in preparation for their first communion.
She was right. They weren’t ready. They were too immature. They didn’t understand.
But you know what else I learned?
She didn’t understand it either! None of the parents did!
And you know what else?
I can’t really say that I understand it, either!
So there we were: four kids, three parents, and one pastor, all talking about the body and blood of Jesus broken and poured out for his followers, then and now, to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. We talked about the history, the theology, and the stories. We made some crafts and played some games. And by the end of three weeks we didn’t really understand it. We were too immature. We weren’t ready. But God was still present in our laughter, learning, relationships, snack eating, scripture reading, and praying.
And you know what happened next?
The first Sunday after the class ended, I placed a piece of bread in the hands of the four kids and their parents and said, “The body of Christ, given for you.” They drank from the cup. I, too, ate the body and drank the blood. And not one single person in the entire congregation understood it. Not one person was ready. But God was present, just like Jesus promised he’d be.
This year we had twelve kids participate in the First Communion class. And I can tell you this: not one of the kids was ready. Not one of them understands communion. Same goes for their parents, as a matter of fact! They weren’t ready either; they don’t understand it. And, it goes without saying, Pastor Mark and I still don't really understand it, either. We’re definitely too immature. But God was still present in our laughter, learning, relationships, snack eating, scripture reading, and praying.
And, you know what will happen next? Soon everyone here will come forward and receive the bread – the body of Christ – and you’ll eat it; you’ll receive the wine or grape juice – the blood of Christ – and you’ll drink it. And not one of us will understand what happened; but God will be present.
There’s a temptation for Christians to think that we have to have something mastered before it can be truly experienced or appreciated. This shows up in our thoughts about communion, prayer, and reading the Bible. What we forget is that the Christian faith is not about a destination or achievement; as if God is waiting for us at a finish line; rather, it’s a process, a journey, and an experience that God guides us through the whole time. Fortunately we have these incredible things like prayer and scripture and holy communion that provides an opportunity to pause and realize that God is present.
To conclude, I’d like to leave you with this story written by the author and blogger Glennon Doyle Melton, which appeared on her blog yesterday.* She writes this:
Here is my office.
My work is to talk to children about how wild and wonderful are their world, their God and other people—and how fiercely and forever and unconditionally loved they are. I teach them about grace; how grace means that they can relax because there is nothing they can do to make God love them more and nothing they can do to make God love them less. I teach them that the world will try to convince them otherwise, but the truth is that all they really have to do, their whole lives long, is bask in the light of God’s love and then reflect it onto others. I do this work because everyone should figure out what she believes to be the most important work in the world and just go do it.
So this morning I waited there, right in front of the altar while the little ones waddled in like geese—single file, squawking, looking so tiny inside the massive sanctuary. There is no way to describe how precious they were with all the heads swiveling around at the soaring ceilings and all the pinching each other and all the trying not to giggle. I’ll just say that my heart did that thing that happened to the Grinch—remember when his heart swelled so many sizes that it almost burst? That’s why I go to church—for the heart swelling. The heart swelling is the only buzz I have left. Luckily it’s the best one I’ve found: the kind of buzz that leaves me better and bigger instead of worse and smaller. Anyway—looking at those Joy Beings walk towards me, I wondered if this time my heart would swell OUT of me and I’d start floating above the pews like a Macy’s Day balloon.
At the end of the little geese line was a new student wearing a name tag that said: Ryan. Ryan was a head taller than the other children and his eyes were dark and deep, like wells you can look into but never find the bottom of. I was immediately drawn to this little man with the big, deep, sad eyes because I agree with Dr. Who: Sad is happy for deep people. I winked at Ryan. He grinned, but just a little.
My friends Nancy and Susan started the lesson and we sang and we danced and then we quieted ourselves and went into our still, small place in our hearts where we can listen for God. Then half way through our quiet minute: my big-eyed friend motioned to me in a way that said: can you come here? But can you not make a big deal about? So I went over to Ryan but I didn’t make a big deal about it. I just casually sat down next to him and kept facing forward so he could take his time telling me whatever he needed to tell me.
Finally, he tapped me on the shoulder and I leaned down close. He looked around the big sanctuary and he said:
“Excuse me. Is God coming?”
Then Ryan looked around again, like he was expecting God to show up here like Ronald shows up occasionally at McDonalds. And I just stared at this little man who had just asked me the question that every single human being who has ever looked around a fancy sanctuary or a busted up family or a hurting friendship or a shocking diagnosis or a messy world is thinking:
“Excuse Me. Is God Coming?”
I swallowed hard and I said: “Ryan. That is the best question I have ever heard. Just the best one. Listen, I won’t if you don’t want me to, but I gotta tell you—I think your class needs to hear your brilliant question. May I share it?”
My big-eyed friend’s eyes got even bigger and he tried to contain a proud little smile and he nodded to me.
I stood up and said, “Miss Nancy, I am so sorry to interrupt you, but this person has just asked the most honest, beautiful, important question I have ever heard anyone ask in my whole entire life. He looked around this room and he said, “Is God Coming?”
And it got really quiet and I looked at my friend and tried to respond. I babbled, really. I said, “I don’t have an answer, no one does, really. But here’s my hunch. I think God’s already here. I don’t think we wait for God to come as much as we bring God to each other. I think God is inside me and you, Ryan. It’s like… you know how cookies have sugar in them and that’s what makes them delicious? We have God in us. That’s what makes us delicious. And I think God sent US to be here for each other because God’s inside of us–so God knows that if we show up–God’s here too. God sends us to each other. Because we are all God’s family and sometimes family members send each other. You know how sometimes your daddy sends your mommy to pick you up and sometimes your mommy sends your daddy?”
And all the little ones raised their hands and nodded except for Ryan. I stopped and looked right at him. He said, “My daddy doesn’t pick me up. My daddy’s in heaven.”
And Nancy and Susan and I froze because suddenly those deep eyes made perfect sense and all the kids got really quiet in holy reverence for Ryan and his daddy and his questions—and there is no chance that in the history of the entire world there has ever been a more brutiful, silent moment.
And I let there be silence for a long minute and then when I finally pulled myself together, I walked over to Ryan and silently prayed PLEASE GOD HELP ME BE PRESENT FOR THIS AMAZING BOY YOU SENT and then I started speaking really quietly to him. I said, “Ryan, your daddy is in heaven?” And he nodded. And I said, “I see. Well my guess would be that God and your daddy are together there, and that God sent me and your teachers and these friends to be here with you today. So that we could love you for God. I think that God loves you more than you can even imagine. And I love you too, Ryan. I can’t believe how lucky I am to know you. I think that God sent you here for me, Ryan. Because you are just one of the most special people I’ve ever met. You have beautiful questions about God and you are honest and kind and I just think that you are my gift from God today, Ryan. Thank you for showing up here. I’m glad I showed up, too. Magic happens when we go where God sends us, doesn’t it? It’s like God sends us places to meet God in others. And to be God for others.”
And then I just went out on a big limb that appeared in front of me.
“Ryan, I don’t know how you can know if God is here or not. But here’s what happens to me when I notice that God is with me. My hearts starts to feel bigger. It feels like it’s swelling up. It feels like it’s getting so big it might crawl up through my throat. Like right now, next to you—my heart feels huge. Like somebody pumped it full of air. I think this heart swelling is sometimes how God reminds me that God is with me.”
And you guys. Ryan’s face—the face that had been so serious and so sad—broke into a smile that made it abundantly clear that God used the heart swelling trick on him, too. But he just didn’t know it was God doing it. And then he said quietly, “I know what you mean.”
Is God coming?
I know what you mean.
Have there ever been two more perfect, two more brutiful sentences uttered?
Then I asked Ryan if I could hug him and he said yes and he squeezed me tight and then Nancy had to take over completely because I could not speak for the rest of our time together. Just not one more word.
Listen to me. You HAVE to decide what you believe to be the most important work in the world and then you have to DO THAT WORK. Because THIS is what happens. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS. God shows up.
I love you.