Tap. Tap. "I want to sit with Ms. Sue. Can I have my notebook?" Five-year-old son runs back to his favorite pew with a couple who have adopted him into their pew on Sundays. They snuggle him, bring him little gifts, and all around love on him as if he were their own grandson.
"Mommy?" followed by a silent point. "Ms. Cyndee!" Off the three-year-old daughter runs to her adopted pew with two couples and their elderly mother, whom they provide care for. There she is cuddled, led to Communion, and all around loved on as if she were their own granddaughter.
Glance forward to the front pew. The two service helpers are standing in the first pew dressed in white robes. Two adult members of the congregation with developmental disabilities (the woman has Down Syndrome) who are given the role of acolytes so they may serve the church in an important way each Sunday.
They fill the role with pride.
You can see it in the way they carry themselves, with the respect to which they step up to the Altar, with the joy in their faces as they sing.
The man is not able to read or find the correct number in the hymnal. Each week, the woman with Down Syndrome lovingly takes his hymnal, and trades it for hers that is already on the right page. He can't read it, but he takes it with joy and sings along to a surprising number of hymns that he knows by heart.
More times than less, a tear finds it way down my cheek about now, while I watch them interact. My mind wanders off to our culture's hatred of people with disabilities, particularly shown through the way they fight for the right to kill people with Down Syndrome before they are born. I thank God that this woman is in my life and in this church, serving her neighbor by caring about him in the pew.
Christ's love shown through this very important and very joyful person. She loves her life and I do, too. As the service goes on and they both quote it without missing a beat, I thank God for the historic Liturgy.
My husband begins his sermon. I grab the milk cup to appease the 17-month-old for a few seconds...maybe a minute.
Oh, that law hit hard. A sermon about weakness. I got a lot of that. My children show me my weakness everyday. I glance at our six-year-old, who spent his toddler years kicking, thrashing, and spitting at me during church. There he sits quietly looking through his new book from his Godparents, quoting the Liturgy during some parts, off in his own wonderland during other parts. How God's grace has been sufficient in weakness during his six years would blow the mind of most adults.
OK, mind, back to the sermon you go.
The sincerity by which my husband speaks of weakness catches me off-guard. "...felt weak..."
My mind flashes to some friends of mine who have just lost a child in miscarriage. Lord, have mercy on Stephanie, I say in my mind.
Mind wanders to our miscarriage - our child that is not with us in our pew or an adopted pew throughout the church, but with our Lord on the greatest pew imaginable.
Flash back to real time.
The soothing Word of Gospel.
My husband preaches it so boldly.
I am free. I am clean. I am forgiven. I am righteous. Thanks be to God.
A constant rolling hum and occasional scream of children is heard constantly through the service. Children are here. Thanks be to God! 17-month-old rolling around on the floor beneath my feet. The thought of "how could she possibly be getting anything out of this" flashes through my mind. "Why do I bring her in here and fight her every week?"
The Lord's Prayer.
I look down and she has crawled onto the pew next to her oldest brother, hands folded. "Amen!" she says at the end.
I smile. OK, God, I hear you. She is getting it. She belongs here. Thanks for the reminder.
"Solomon, time for us to go up for Communion."
"OH YES! Time to receive Jesus' BLOOD! My favorite part!"
Smile. Yes, son. The confession of children is bold and accurate.
Glance over during Communion and see a family next to us, bringing their children to this place to receive Christ's gifts together. Sad thought of them moving away soon, followed by a fun thought of rejoicing in the WHOLE Christian church gathered around at Communion, and how that will connect us over many miles.
Back to the pew, and I watch our other two children walk up to Communion with their adopted pew friends. Joy in the family of Christ. People pass by, and thoughts of the beauty of the Christian church flash through my mind.
I watch children pass by who are brought to the Altar by their faithful grandmas and grandpas.
I see children who grew up without a father but have been taught about their Heavenly Father through others around them.
I see the disabled.
I see the elderly.
I see babies.
I see children who were babies when my husband baptized them, and now they are walking around talking about Jesus.
I see husbands.
I see wives.
I glance up and see my husband's eyes catch mine. He grins at me, and a few chills run down my spine. My husband still gives me chills...even in church...even in a collar...even while serving Communion. God has been gracious to me.
I see widows, and I remember to pray for them, as I am sure they miss those chills.
I see the young man who was baptized on the same day as our youngest daughter. He was a teenager and she was a newborn. I flash to a memory of him holding her that day.
I see people who are poor.
I see people who are wealthy.
I see people who are black.
I see people.who are white.
I see people who are mixed race.
I see people.
I see the masks of Christ in this world.
This is Christ's flock.
Church isn't about a feeling. I don't need to feel the Spirit move to know God is present in His Word and Sacraments. I don't need to be brought to tears to know my heart is changed by the Word. I know these things because He promises these things in this place.
But when the Lord gives the feelings, the memories, and the tears, I am thankful for that, too.