The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Come, one and all

Sabbatical: a time of Sabbath, of rest, recreation and worship. I'm a pastor in a small town. I began my sabbatical far from home, far from the people I've loved and served for the past 20 years.

Worship is a different experience for a pastor on sabbatical. I walk into worship space unknown. I sit without the usual sense of responsibility. I don't have to worry about the sermon, the acolyte or the altar guild. I have no responsibility, except to lay my heart before my God and to lift my prayers heavenward.

The rhythm of worship soothes the soul: to sing, to pray and to muse upon Scripture and the grace of a God who welcomed home prodigals and ate with sinners. The meal approached — the focus of worship moves from word to sacrament.

Sabbatical: a time of Sabbath, of rest, recreation and worship. My perspective has changed. Instead of looking out on the people of God, I look up to an altar, up to the One who took on death for me. In this moment I'm moved to tears. On the front of the altar, a relief carving portrays the Last Supper with the image of the fearful disciples as they gathered with Jesus on a night of unfathomable darkness. I have so much in common with the men chiseled in wood. I am weak, frail, afraid. I am not always sure how God is working, if God is working, if I have given my life to a dying cause. How much we have in common, those Holy Week betrayers and I.

Bread and wine. This is my body broken for you, for me. The people of God are gathered around the table, the words of institution, the Lord's Prayer, Sabbath day, Sabbath meal. Then the invitation: one who didn't know me spoke the words on behalf of the One who knew my name and had knit me together in my mother's womb. One who did not know me stood behind an altar, adorned in the symbols of our faith, knowing that I wasn't part of his denomination. One who didn't know me, except to define me by what I was not, informed me that I wasn't welcome at this table.

Sabbatical: a time of Sabbath, of rest, recreation and worship. To come into the presence of the One who welcomes all and then be told by the church that one like you, one unlike us, is not included in that "all."

They come each week in my parish and in yours. They come looking for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. They look for grace. They long for a place to belong. The table does not belong to me, to the congregation or to the ELCA. There is only one host and it isn't me. There is only one party and it isn't mine. There is only one guest list and I don't possess it. The bread and wine aren't for me to protect. The body that was broken was not mine.

I am the pastor of a church. I set the table. I hold forth the means of grace to hungry, broken people. I clean up afterward. It isn't about me. I just work here. God has called me to serve and to speak a word of invitation: "By the invitation of the one and only host, I welcome you to this table. This is not a Lutheran table; this is the Lord's table. All are welcome. If you desire to meet Jesus Christ, please come."




Posted at 2:26 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/27/2010

Thank you for this article!  --  My husband and I are just home (to Pennsylvania) after an extended stay in northern California.  During our time there, which included Holy Week, we worshipped at four different churches, three Lutheran and one Episcopal.  We were definitely feeling like the strangers and sojourners as we approached each new church door.  Thank God, each church that we visited verbally welcomed all to the Lord's Table!   We were no longer strangers and sojourners!  We were part of the Communion of Saints!  What a difference this made for us! 

As a footnote, let me add that two of the four churches had also made provision for those who are gluten intolerant, as I am.  That made the welcome even more inclusive.)  Smile



Posted at 7:57 pm (U.S. Eastern) 4/27/2010

A poignant and provocative article. You did not fail in your act of worship, but the one who didn't know you failed in one of the most basic of pastoral duties, i.e., to "administer the sacrament." It put me in mind of the time I visited the neighborhood Greek Orthodox church and, as I approached the building, a member said, "I see you're not one of us. What do you want?" What gave me away, I wondered. I wasn't wearing funny shoes and I didn't have 2 heads! I suspect we could all go back to Hospitality School and learn a thing or two! Don't give up on the humans! We're all a work in progress!

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February issue


Embracing diversity