Since I'd missed lunch while crossing time zones and I didn't think I had time to hop off the bus for the White Castle, I arrived at Solomon's Porch quite hungry, but also hungry in another sense. The Churchwide Assembly has been weighing on me these past days, and I needed a place and a community in which to pray--to spend some good ol' quality time with Jesus, and find some rest for my spirit. As I sat in quiet contemplation on my chosen couch (yes, couch), down sits a guy called Mark with his family. We get to talking and I tell him I'm a Lutheran pastor in town for the assembly and it turns out he is a PHD student at Luther Seminary. Then the service begins.
I'd noticed when I'd sat down that there was some flat bread and a decanter of wine or juice or something on the coffee table in front of me and other loaves of various kind of bread and similar decanters on other tables throughout the worship space. I noticed them especially because I hadn't eaten in 7 hours, but for a fleeting second I thought they might be food for my other need--the "encountering Jesus in, with, and under bread and wine in a community" need. But I've been to other post-modern, emergent, or otherwise non-liturgical churches who have rediscovered the sacraments and are exploring how to reintroduce them into their community life--so I wasn't getting my hopes up (except for the snack). Most of the time I've been at worship services like this that include communion it's hardly the incarnational event that it is in worship in the Lutheran tradition. And its not that folks aren't trying. Its just that there is something about saying "hey, we're doing communion tonight, its over there" that is fundamentally different from the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus embedded in the liturgy that moves from the proclamation of Grace in the particular, to Grace in the specific ("the Body and Blood of Christ, even for you", as one of my friends once said) an embodied Grace that I get to take and eat--to taste and see for myself that the Lord is good. There is a depth and richness to that communion event that is just lacking in most non-liturgical traditions, at least the ones I have experienced.
So I wasn't expecting much from communion at Solomon's Porch, and really wasn't all that surprised when, following the first song, they announced that they had moved communion to the beginning of the service, and after reciting something religious sounding (that did include mention of Jesus), we were to serve each other around our little coffee table groups. At least, I thought, I'd get my snack. So people moved about, breaking bread, saying various things to one another as they did, and having communion/snack time together (the bread was very tasty). But during this, something happened that transformed the whole thing for me. The pastor, Doug Pagitt, came over to my new friend Mark and asked him if he would offer a prayer when we got to that point in the service. "So," says Doug to Mark, "it turns out that there are a whole bunch of Lutherans gathering in town this week to talk about some important stuff, and I'd like you to offer a prayer for them." "Sure," says Mark to Doug, "in fact, Erik here is a Lutheran pastor in town for the conference." "You are?" says Doug to me, "Maybe you could say a few things to the group so we could understand more what is going on better before we pray." "Sure," says I.
And here I was, having come to this place of prayer to spend some time with just me and God, and suddenly I was invited into the community, to speak, to ask for prayer and to receive it on behalf of my fellow Lutherans. Just to be included and lifted up in prayer was communion for me--an embodied, spirit filled, act of Grace from God through ordinary stuff (in this case people)--and it was exactly what I was hungering for. And so, at that point in the service, Mark and I got up and I shared with this strange community in which I didn't know anyone (except for Mark) my deep need for prayer, and my desire for unity amidst difference in the ELCA, and that the Holy Spirit would be at work among us. I spoke for all 4.6 million of us, seeking the prayers and support of this community of faith with whom we may have little in common except we all follow Jesus. And then Mark prayed, and as he spoke I felt a hand on my shoulder, then another, and another. And in that moment I experienced specifically, bodily, and for me what until that point had been only proclaimed in the general--you are not alone, we are all in this together, and even more importantly, that the Church of Jesus is one despite our differences.
I may never step foot in this place again, might never encounter this community again, but they were for me tonight the Body of Christ--and that's exactly what I was hungering for. With this experience tonight (and the White Castle hamburgers in my tummy) it is clear to me that God is at work in this place, that the Holy Spirit works in, with, and under everything that we do. And so I enter this week in great hope that the followers of Jesus who come together to be the ELCA in Churchwide Assembly will be filled and inspired, and will converse and deliberate, and will embody the Good News of Jesus so that every one of us--and all who hear of what God is up to among us--can encounter God in Jesus Christ in this crazy gathering of people we call the Church.
My prayer for this week (from @Luth55IL): Lord, when our debates are over and the votes counted may those watching be able to say: "See how they love one another".