Every once in a while, a Sunday comes along that simply feels effortless. Believe it or not, even for priests it isn't always so. Sometimes, Sunday mornings can be difficult. The sermon may not rise to an acceptable level of craft and execution (our fault), or there may be some element that simply doesn't take. Those offering service may be off in their energy. The people may simply not really want to be there. It does happen. Human beings are human, after all...and sometimes we just don't really want to be where we are-even when we are in church with the intention of offering worship to God.
This past Sunday, I was expecting a "down" day. I had been fighting a headache since early Saturday morning that was bad enough to the extent that it woke me up from a sound sleep and didn't let me rest until the ibuprofen kicked in an hour or so later. Saturday was nearly lost to the fog, and residual pain, left over from that event. Experience has taught me that when I feel that physically "off" that Sunday can not be expected to go well.
Blessed be God that I got a good night's sleep on Saturday and when I woke up on Sunday my headache was a thing of memory. On top of that, the day was clear and there was a lightness in the air that, despite a cool temperature and some fog, gave an indication that spring was indeed coming.
Church was a blessing, and it seemed to be that way for all the folk at Matawan. They were truly glad to be there. I was truly glad to be their priest on this particular morning. It felt good, particularly with Holy Week just around the corner. It felt good to be together.
There were highlights: at the 8 AM, the acolyte-a vestryman pressed into service at the last moment, welcomed his grandson just after communion. Not only did the young man come up to sit with his grandfather as the service was ending, he also processed out with us and asked, "Next time, can I dress up?" A new recruit!
At the 8 and 10 o'clock services, the lay preacher offered his perspective on the readings for the day. A blessing, in that I got a chance to listen and learn instead of speak and teach in response to the Gospel's proclamation. The theme was "dealing with change." He talked about being an adult trainer tasked with teaching a woman how to use a computer...even though it meant change-giving up a beloved and familiar typewriter. It isn't just about dealing with something new and unexpected, he offered, that sets people's teeth on edge when Jesus begins to tell them about the death he is going to die-about how a seed must fall to the ground and die in order to bring new life. It is also about people being challenged with accepting a transformed life in exchange to surrendering their previous suppositions, dependencies and certainties-the things that give life a sense of stability and predictability. The final challenge, and it was a good one, was for us to answer the question, "What is your typewriter?" Lent is a time for us to not just give up the things that distract us from God. It is also a time for us to embrace being closer to God and the continual refreshment God offers with ongoing transformation in Christ.
So, on to the beginning of the final blessing of the morning: it was pretzel day at Trinity, Matawan!
I had been told that the fifth Sunday in Lent was "pretzel day" and I understood the significance of the exercise. What I was not prepared for was the change it wrought in the liturgy at the 10 AM service. First and foremost, the children did not come in after the liturgy of the word. Normally, they join the service after the prayers and then depart after communion for instruction. This Sunday...no kids.
Instead, from the kitchen which is attached to the sanctuary space, we began to smell the familiar scent of baking bread. As the liturgy continued with the Eucharist, the scent got stronger and stronger. Imagine that, the church, during communion, filled with the scent of baking bread!
At the end of the distribution of the elements, the children entered with their teachers. They were all covered in flour, and some still had bits of dough dried and flaking off their hands. One child offered his hands to me with his palms down. I was not quite sure what was going on, and asked why he was doing that: "My palms are dirty from the pretzels." I turned his hands over...bread to bread. What a blessing.
Still more when coffee fellowship started. Platters of steaming hot pretzels were handed around. It was a very special day...and it reminded me that that feeling of being refreshed in church really does require little more than being open to healing, and open to what the day may bring. Sure, it might require of us a willingness to set down our typewriters...but the refreshment and renewal that come after prove to be more than enough to justify the risk.