It seems as I journey through my years that life has layered me with its own soil, decayed vegetation turning into the earth, becoming compost and feeding me anew. Continual redemption.
How I react to the twists and turns that come my way is largely determined by my Christian faith, a faith which insists on hopefulness, insists on the sanctity of suffering, insists on good – indeed God – winning in the end. And of course, He does. I fully trust that this is so.
No one is immune to betrayal, to slander, to lies. We trust our elected officials to represent us in Congress, to be honest in all their dealings. We trust the government to defend our borders and keep the peace in our communities. We trust our spouses to be faithful to the promises made before God in marriage. We trust our children’s teachers to be honest, skilled, and good character models. We trust our clergy to be without sin, for we say, they speak for God, a huge responsibility.
But all humanity has fallen and each of us will betray or be betrayed. When that happens, do we run away? Do we no longer vote, or work on our marriage, or send our children to school? Do we flee the Church, deny our faith, no longer believe in a God of love and salvation? Do we, like Jonah, run away from God?
Some folks, when crushed by the failure of others, do indeed flee. And I understand that temptation, the immediate desire to escape the pain. But in the end, where do we go… but to put our trust in another set of folks who are just as fallible as we are.
So as I witnessed this morning the Institution of our new Rector in our parish church, I considered these things. Our former Rector betrayed our trust. Will this one betray us? I prayed he would not, that he would not be absorbed by pride or controlled by power-lust, that he would choose the harder more sacrificial path that led to the center of the Cross. For only there, in this cross-roads of humility, could he bind our wounds.
The day was fair, in fact it was splendid: crystal clear skies, crisp air with the underlying warmth of coming spring. Our California hills are greening now, fresh from the week’s light rains. When we arrived at church, we stepped through the bright narthex and into the nave, taking our seats in one of the oak pews. Soon the procession formed in the entry doors and I heard the first notes of the opening hymn, God the Omnipotent! King, who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion… I turned to see, and there, robed and mitered, the thurifer, the torchbearers, the crucifer, the acolytes, and the clergy stepped up the red-carpeted aisle in a cloud of incense and song. The church danced. As I sang, I glanced at the high altar where the sun shafted through the skylights, enshrining the thirteenth-century crucifix above the altar. It was beautiful, pure and holy. We were worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness… and perfect trust in that holiness.
The service slipped through prayers and scriptures and creed, and soon the Bishop charged our new Rector to be a good husband to this new congregation of his, for we were the Church, the Bride of Christ, and we were now bound together, as in a marriage. I prayed that this priest would recognize truth from lies, that he would protect the righteous from the unrighteous, that he would not hesitate to fight for right. I prayed that my heart might be healed so that I could trust again. I prayed that the broken parts, once so shattered, would be mended.
After the sermon, after the Canon of the Mass, after receiving Christ at His altar, I joined the children and staff of the Sunday School. We stepped up the chancel steps, softly padding on the red carpet and formed a line facing the congregation.
Then, sweetly, simply, we sang “Jesus Loves Me”:Jesus loves me, this I know, For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong, They are weak, but He is strong.
These words were written on my heart in younger days, and always were comforting, being so weak myself and needing His strength. But the next verses were new to me:Jesus loves me, He who died, Heaven’s gate to open wide; He will wash away my sin, Let His little child come in. Jesus loves me, He will stay Close beside me all the way; If I love Him, when I die, He will take me home on high. Susan Warner, 1860
A pretty good summary of the faith. I had read that this nineteenth century hymn was composed to comfort a dying child. And we, too, are dying. My journey, I know, will end in the death of my body. I trust that if I trust He-who-died, Heaven’s gate to open wide, that He will wash away my sin, and let me come in. He will stay close beside me all the way. If I love Him, when I die, He will take me home on high. This is a trust I can manage, and in the meantime, I trust that He will heal my heart.
Soon, this morning in church, we returned to our pews to sing the recessional hymn. The words made me smile:Glorious things of thee are spoken, Sion city of our God; He whose word cannot be broken, Formed thee for his own abode; On the Rock of Ages founded, What can shake thy sure repose? With salvation’s walls surrounded, Thou may’st smile at all thy foes. John Newton, 1779
And smile, I did. Deo Gratias.