What a wonderful scene at St. Nicholas last Saturday night. Weddings are always an occasion for much happiness and celebration. However, there was something quite unique about this wedding. Michelle and Kirk are both members of the extended family of St. Nicholas, though they don’t worship with us; though we pray that changes and they join us much more often.
The wedding was delayed by about 20 minutes as the bride was ‘slightly late.’ So, I did my best to keep the filled-beyond-capacity church entertained. I shared a little about St. Nicholas and the Episcopal Church. I invited all to stay around after the Liturgy, as well as before and after the reception to take in the beauty of our worship space. And, my good friends, they did and in earnest!
People were taking pictures, asking me questions about the icons and the images, others were reading some of the material available and all the while, there was a happy noise that echoed from the carpet to the ceiling. I noticed one young lady looking at the wall of icons that represents the all-inclusive nature of some of the women and men found in Sacred Scripture; that wall with the images of David and Jonathon.
A lovely, young lady with several rings in both ear lobes, rather distinct hair and a definite air of self-acceptance about her. She came to me and gave me a hug so intense that it did not squeeze the air out of me but filled me with a joy and peace I can scarcely explain. She pulled away and said, “Fr. Manny, I have never been welcomed in any church, ever, like I was welcomed to St. Nicholas tonight. Thank you.” I was speechless and almost at that point of crying. I held it together enough to share with her, “well, you have graced our company tonight and I hope you come back to St. Nicholas…our doors are always open to all God’s children…just as God has made us and no questions asked.” She smiled and I believe she knew that I knew of what she was implying. Enough said…nothing more needed to be spoken as we connected. I pray she comes back if for any other reason than she may well need to be here!
Let’s pray for all who need a place where they can be accepted without any questions or a need to hide who they are and who God made them to be.
As I broke the bread at the altar, I explained what we are experiencing and what we are about to share. Placing the broken host back into the basket, I asked who in the congregation was Roman Catholic…many hands were raised. I asked who in the congregation was Greek or Russian Orthodox…more hands were raised. I asked who in the congregation was Episcopalian…only my hand went up…oh well. I asked who in the congregation was Lutheran, or Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Methodist…many hands were raised. I asked who in the congregation was a child of the 12 tribes of Israel…several hands were raised. I asked who in the congregation adheres to the teachings of Mohammed or Buddha…a few hands were raised. All the while I smiled and my heart was swelled with such love and peace.
And I went out on that sacred limb; I extended the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist to the farthest of boundaries and I invited, I encouraged, I requested that all come forward and join me in the celebration at the “table of life,” and share in the true and real presence of Jesus the Redeemer. My friends, 80 of those 100 people in attendance came forward, hands open and arms extended. Amen after Amen after Amen was spoken in response and I heard Ameen and Shalom as well. It was overwhelming and it was a true gift. Jesus did not stipulate who could eat as He shared the bread and fish to the 5,000 that gathered on that hillside and heard Him preach about all that is Blessed and Sacred. No, Jesus fed them all…period.
Should it matter, as Christians, as all God’s children, how we worship God or is it not more important that we DO worship and celebrate God and God’s greatest gift to us, Jesus the Christ? This was my intended lesson, my catechism for that Saturday night: that as Christians we are at our collective best when we focus on what we have in common and not fixate on that about which we are not in agreement. This was my verbal and spiritual “olive branch” to our Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist sisters and brothers who had ventured to St. Nicholas that cold and snowy Saturday night.
After communion and while the congregation and I sat in silent meditation, albeit for but a short minute or two, I gazed upon those faces…those smiling faces and I felt that some thing special had just occurred. Jesus was present in a unique and particularly extraordinary manner. I can’t quite express what I was feeling and what was filling the church at that point, but THERE WAS some thing very, very special. I could have floated right up and out those baptismal font windows and straight upward to the very heaven of heavens. What blessed grace had filled our sacred worship space.
I feel we are blessed, in very special ways here at St. Nicholas. This wedding was just another example, another occasion where we have been graced with some very powerfully divine gifts. So, I have to say thank you to all those who came and celebrated last Saturday night. And…I have to say thank you to my St. Nicholas family who continue, day by day and week by week, to be a blessing and a gift to one another. We are the reason this place is so special…God simply tops it all off with a generous helping of Jesus’ most amorous and affectionate of love. And Jesus shares without any reservation or hesitation. “What wondrous love is this, oh, my soul?” It’s Jesus…let us rejoice and be glad.