It is good to be around children.
My grandchildren live a distance away so this summer is turning out to be a special blessing. I’m overseeing the Summer Program in our Sunday School.
Our numbers are small, so that all ages gather together to sing and read stories and color, cut, and paste. The older help the younger. I have found that watching the interaction between children of different ages to be particularly enchanting, and this morning I was reminded again we are indeed a parish family. Even as I write this, the color and laughter and high spirits linger with me. I smile, float, on the buoyant melody of our singing together, of our working together around the yellow table, and the red and blue chairs.
Earlier I cut five thorny red roses from my garden and added three thorn-free pink ones from the local grocer’s, wrapped them in a wet paper towel, slipped them into a baggie and ran an elastic band around them. This has been my Sunday ritual, bringing in the flowers for the Children’s Chapel. Holding them carefully in the car in some way prepares my mind and heart for worship as we drive the fifteen minutes to church. Today as I touched the thorny stems and the smooth stems I thought how I held the real and the ideal, life with all its sufferings and life with the sufferings stripped away. The thorns reminded me of my own haphazard heart, my true self, full of waywardness and wrong turns. Today these wrongs would be stripped away, my stem would become smooth again. The sufferings and confusions, the wars and the waywardness, would all come right in the absolution and the communion in the Mass.
We gathered in the Children’s Chapel. Mothers and babies and primaries today, along with aides and teachers. We sang “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” raising our arms and twirling and pointing to lips and eyes and heads to show “all things wise and wonderful.” We stood tall for the “all creatures great” and bent down to the floor for “and small.” We sang with our bodies in the Children’s Chapel, so that all of our parts could praise God who made us all.
The lessons are about creation, the amazing world around us that given to us by God. I glanced at the red and pink roses on our carved oak altar draped in white linen. I watched the children twirl and sing, their eyes large, the music joyous. I knew soon we would plant sunflowers, sweet pea, and lavender in colorful pots and set them to grow on a box under the tall windows in the classroom. Some earlier plantings are shooting already, green and strong and reaching for the light. Soon we would color and cut and paste. We would put our stars on the attendance chart and hear a story from one of the teachers. We would laugh together and play bumble bee with the babies.
The class well cared for by our teaching team, I stepped into the nave of the main church to say my prayers with the congregation as the Canon of the Mass began. The Collect prayer for today is one of Thomas Cranmer’s finest,
“O God,who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire…”
It’s a lovely prayer, this request to love God above all things so that God in turn gives us even more. It is all about love, learning to love. It is all about stripping those thorns and giving our new selves away. Giving ourselves to God and to one another.
As the congregation chanted, “O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us…,” I rose and returned to the Sunday School. Soon we formed a line in the narthex and processed up the red-carpeted aisle, our hands folded, for our blessings and communions. We joined our parish family at God’s altar and received God himself. We were one, the young and the old, those learning to walk and those using walkers. We formed a kind of bouquet there, kneeling, our smooth stems touching in the vase of the church.
As adults we grow old and dull and gray. We need children to remind us of the glories of creation, of “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful….” We need children to love and to live to the glory of God.