An elderly member of our parish journeyed to Heaven this last week. Her photograph was in our church’s narthex this morning – bright eyes, red hair, full of life. It had been many years since I had seen her like that, for she had been weakening for a good and Godly while, and I smiled in recognition. She was younger then. (So was I.)
I carried her image in my mind as I entered the nave and took a seat alongside my husband in the long oak pew. Now, thinking over the morning and my friend’s celestial journey, I am grateful for this great ark of the church that cradles each of us in this world. We the faithful sit in the nave, a word derived from the Latin navis or ship, and our own church is shaped rather like a boat, this one sailing the seas of Oakland, California. One day I too, like my friend, will journey out of this world and into the next, but for the time being I am protected by the Church. And not only protected, but in this womb I am fed by the Church, until reborn in Heaven. And what is the heavenly food that I feed upon in this womb of an ark? I feed upon prayer, worship, scripture, and God himself in the Mass.
Today was fittingly a day of rebirth in our parish, celebrating the opening of the new Sunday School year with our annual Ice Cream Social. The children trooped up the red-carpeted aisle for their blessings and trooped out to their class. Soon they skipped downstairs for ice cream and home-made hot fudge. There were many smiles as we indulged, and more smiles as we were quizzed on Bible story facts and figures. There were prizes too.
Our children represent a new generation being raised up that replaces those, like my friend, that have journeyed on. So we teach (and show) our children the love of God. We tell them the stories of his great acts among us, those great acts that led up to the Incarnation in Nazareth two thousand years ago and those great acts since the Incarnation. Our preacher said today (and now I paraphrase, reaching into my rough memory) that the Cross intersected time and space; the Cross made past and future all new, re-newed. It shattered time. And I saw in my mind as he spoke the fissures of an earthquake crackling and cracking through time and space, in every direction. The Cross and the Resurrection changed everything. The Cross vanquished time by vanquishing death, giving us eternity.
We teach our children these stories of before the Cross (B.C., Before Christ) and after the Cross (A.D., After Christ, the Year of Our Lord). We call these eras Old Testament and New Testament (literally the old and the new testimony or witness or history) and we cradle our children in the ark of these stories, each account true in different degrees and ways, so that the new generation may know and be protected by the love of God. We teach our children God’s commandments so that they may experience God’s loving forgiveness. We teach them to sing and celebrate and offer themselves to God in the great liturgy of the Mass, so that they may receive God back in the bread and wine, and so be inspired, full of the Spirit, as they travel through the hours and days of the week ahead.
We cradle our children in the Church, just as my friend had been nourished and cradled by the Church in her earthly life. Through the Church God holds us close to him, and we sail on the waves of our sea of earthly time, the way clearly charted and the destination in sight. The bow of our ark cleaves cleanly through the waters, whether stormy or still, our ship directed and driven by the words of consecration before the altar within, where in the glorious song and silence of each Sunday morning (and sometimes during the week), God’s priest re-members (pulls into the present) the action of the Cross and shatters time in the mystery of the Mass.
Dear Dwan, may your soul rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon you.