Instant Grace

How quickly things can change.

It was drizzling, or perhaps a heavy condensation was forming, on the windshield as I drove to church this morning. The famous San Francisco summer fog had crept farther east than usual. It formed over the broad Pacific waters, floated over the city and the bay, slid over the hills and the Caldecott tunnel. It blanketed with a damp chill the usually warm valley I call home.

I turned on the heat in the Nursery and the Sunday School. California summers still surprise me and I was born and raised here. I shivered.

There had been considerable dampness and chill in my life in the last year, many challenges to face. Two cousins died and three friends were diagnosed with cancer. My ninety-two-year-old mother fell, was hospitalized for six weeks, then moved to assisted living. The daughter of another friend died in childbirth, leaving a baby girl motherless (the hospital’s carelessness). What would be next, I thought to myself. Who would be next?

Then there are the tragedies too painful, too confidential to talk about, and are ongoing it would appear. So I can’t speak of them, except to say they involve deep betrayals of trust.

Each event I carried (and continue to carry) to the altar. Each person I placed in the arms of Christ. Each heartbreak I relinquished to his eternal love, his sacred heart, the heart that broke for us.  And still does.

I thought about these things as I listened to the sermon today, one that touched on today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In the end, our preacher said with a certain and profound joy, opening his palms to us, the story is all about the Grace of God. It is about God’s immense love in the midst of our wrong turns, in the midst of our suffering, in the midst of our fallen world. It is about the Father’s cloak wrapped around our shoulders, welcoming us into his arms. It is about the ring he puts on our finger telling us to whom we belong. We are his dear and precious children, his family. The parable is about coming home after wandering in the fog.

And so we enter the church as broken, cold and damp, tearful prodigals. We leave healed, full of joy, belonging to God. All within one hour. How quickly it happens.

The sun came out this afternoon, and now the sky is a dome of blue. A breeze ripples the olive tree outside my window and the moistened silvery leaves reach toward the sun.  It all changed so quickly.  And I know it will all change quickly again as we tumble through our time.

Each morning I give thanks for the safe night and pray for the day to come. Each evening I give thanks for the day and pray for a safe and good night’s sleep. “If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take…” is not a bad prayer to pray.

Things change in an instant. And now, thinking again about the father welcoming home his prodigal boy, I realize that while I can try my best to follow God’s commandments, I often fail. Others fail too, and we sometimes fail each other.  We cannot prevent sickness and death, suffering and heartbreak. So as Christians we give them all to God, leaving every pain before the tabernacle on the altar, before the Real Presence of God the Son. And we pray, “Thy will be done,” a good and powerful prayer to pray.

Only on our knees, in full humility, can God transform drizzle into glorious sunshine, in an instant. Only when we empty our hearts can he fill them with his Grace, in an instant. Only then can we hear him say, “Welcome home.”

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