(v. tr.) To live or reside in.
To be present in; to fill.
(v. intr.) To dwell.
. . .
After a too-long stage of church-hunting (more on that later), I have found a church. It was a pretty quick decision process – halfway through the service last week I nodded inwardly thinking, “This is the one.” That was the first time I had attended. Yesterday was my second Sunday, and that quick choice was affirmed through one of the most unique experiences I have had in a church.
One of the attributes I value in a church and was seeking is that the church be aware of the issues of its community. Earlier this week a young man was killed just a couple blocks away from the building where the church meets, and not far from where I grew up – only four blocks north of where my brother went to high school. These stories are all too common in the Chicago news, but this Sunday I went to church waiting to see if and how the church would address this tragedy that was so close to home. The response was surprising and inspiring, and has prompted me to think further about what it means to be a church within a larger community.
Mention of Thursday’s tragedy occurred early in the service, and it was clear in references throughout that it was on the minds of many. That would have been enough for me to think that the leadership had made an appropriate response, but engagement did not end there. At the start of his sermon the pastor said that it would be a short one, but that did not initially surprise me – it was Communion Sunday, and I have been to other churches where sermons are shortened on those days to make more time for the Eucharist. But that man was not kidding when he said “short” – I’m pretty sure the sermon was barely longer than the passage we read. (For the record, the reading was from a pretty long passage, and the sermon was very good.) After the sermon, the pastor explained the reason for his brevity:
He said, “This morning, I woke up feeling convicted that we should be outside.” He thought that the church at such a time should be a visible presence on the block, not just a church behind closed doors. And so after saying the opening Communion liturgy – as part of the Communion ceremony – the entire church filed out of the church and spread out across the two-block stretch in small groups and prayed for the community. After a few minutes of prayer we a filed back inside and took the elements.
I don’t know if anyone noticed us out on that street, and if anyone did I’m sure that they were wholly unaware that our odd-looking gathering was an act of love and solidarity for the community. That is not why I think that what we did is important. Communion is a celebration of Christ’s body – not only that he died, but that he lived. As Christians, we testify to a foolish story of a man who gave up heaven to dwell with us. He did not come to rub noses with the wealthy or live a life of safety and security, but instead was present in the suffering of the lowliest of people. In taking Communion we are reminded of Jesus’ life, and of the call to be present and active in the world – to inhabit. On Sunday, in just a small way, that is just what we did.