Each week brings highs and lows that keep everyday life from growing stale.
And last week’s high arrived as low flying sparklers at the Overholser Mansion. I wanted to shout — Hip, hip hooray! — the fireflies are back. Because after a two year absence, the east lawn of the Overholser Mansion had once again become the best neighborhood spot for firefly gazing. By sheer happenstance, we caught two repeat performances of their latest firefly ballet. And it was worth the wait. I was captivated; I could have parked myself in their midst and watched their flickering lights pirouette across the dark expanse for several encore performances.
But sometimes we’re moved to be still and sometimes we’re moved just to move. And when it comes to church these days — the scene of my most recent low-life moment — we do both. One Sunday we’re on the move, off visiting some local church, while the next we stay put at our current church home. This alternating practice serves to cleanse our palate — in the way crackers cleanse the palate for wine tasting — by allowing us to sample new worship experiences without one running into another. Last Sunday was our Sunday to stay put — and without need of wine or crackers — my husband and I came home to Holy Communion.
Our church usually serves this sacramant by intinction — where communicants dip a small portion of bread into a communal cup of grape juice — which typically takes 20 to 30 minutes to serve. But last week, the service had us moving between a standing line for bread to the kneeling rail for thimble-size containers of grape juice. And with a thousand communicants facing a church altar built for forty kneelers, the communion rail quickly became a bottleneck, which sent sinners in a Christian-like free-for-all as we jostled for an open space at the rail.
Perhaps this new method of distribution was chosen to minimize the spread of infectious diseases. I don’t know. But what I do know is that I observed one woman take her thimble of juice to go, just like she was going through a McDonald’s drive-through window. Meanwhile, my husband and I joustled amongst the masses for an open spot at the kneeler, where we stayed only long enough to drink our juice. Figuring God could hear our prayers just fine from our seats, we were making our way back when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a few souls leaving the sanctuary early. Questions began whirling through my mind. Had they decided to fast? Had they chosen to eat and run? And then came the question to end all questions: Who am I to ask these questions? Then, in a flash, I knew who I was. I was one who was ready to join their exodus; and with the taste of grape juice still on my tongue, I looked at my husband and whispered, “Let’s go.”
The irony that my low point should come in the midst of Holy Communion is not lost on me; nor for that matter, that my week’s high should come from low flying bugs. I fumble within the mystery and the hi-los of it all. What was it about the firefly dances that made me want to stay and what was it about Holy Communion that made me want to flee?
Whatever it was, my reaction has more to say about me than it does about either event. For some unknown reason, I did not experience God in Holy Communion. Maybe because I was preoccupied by looking for room at the inn altar. Maybe because I felt lost in the sea of humanity washing up on the communion rail. And for Christ’s sake, where was the lighthouse to keep us from crashing into one another?
At the Overholsers there was no need for a lighthouse. There was plenty of space and light for all who wished to partake of this lowly unconventional means of grace. And for me, this lowly means of grace was just what I needed last week. Maybe because I had just expressed a longing to again gaze on firefies. One moment it was a wish. And then all of a sudden, here they were. Just like that. Just light that.
And just light that, God was there too. And there on a dusk-tinted lawn — with no bread, no crackers, no wine, no juice, no confusion, no sea of humanity, no rails to rail me in — stood me and God in a sea of fireflies “puttin’ on the ritz where fashion once sat.” Just light that.