I’d seen it there before, tucked into the front right corner. No spotlight, no decorative purple drape, no wreath of thorns. Just wood beams on a rolling platform. But this morning, from the 2nd row piano side, it seemed to loom at me, a stark foreboding reminder of torture and death. Like having a gallows in the corner. It chilled my soul the same way walking past the door to the trauma room in the ER does, and the same way walking through the cemetery used to.
It’s weird, isn’t it? Jesus died, and we keep a representation of the device used to kill him in our churches. Morbid. More than a little eerie. Why don’t we use a symbol of his life?
We keep photos of our daughter in frames throughout our home, even though it’s been nearly 4 years (!) since she died. We talk about her. We keep some of her special things in a cedar chest in our room. We have reminders of her life and of who she was as a person. We don’t keep symbols of her death or its manner.
The first notes of the song rolled by and I crumpled to my seat, my youngest on my lap. I couldn’t stand with everyone else. Agnus Dei. We sang it at Elli’s memorial service. It will always remind me of her and of saying goodbye to her. I made it through one verse before tears choked off my voice. My son, who turned five yesterday, cocked his head sideways as he caught me swiping at my face.
“Why are those tears on your face, mommy?” he asked, one arm wrapped around my neck. His fingers were playing with my hair.
I just looked at him for a minute. “The song reminds me of Elli,” I finally whispered. I pressed tissue into the corner between my eyes and nose, trying not to smear my eye makeup.
He studied my face as I did so, then buried his face in my neck and held me tight. It was just the right thing. I wrapped my arms around him and soaked in the memories while the melody washed over me.
Alleluia. Alleluia. For the Lord God Almighty reigns.
Alleluia. Holy. Holy. Is the Lord God Almighty.
Worthy is the lamb. Worthy is the lamb. Amen.
Why is crying in church good news, you ask? It means that I feel at home in this church. I am not distracted by all the ways I don’t fit the way I have in so many other places we’ve visited. The music, the women who share about reaching out to other parts of the world from the pulpit, the prayer time, the interactive discussion in class, the benediction – all point my thoughts towards God and things that really matter in life and death. People participate and reach out to one another. They introduce themselves and start real conversations. Their gaze isn’t locked inward on theologies and doctrines and forcing everyone to be uniform inside the circle. They aren’t hording money. They are working hard to include and identify needs and meet them in ways that build people and communities (both here and elsewhere) up for the long term. These things are so important to both Scott and I.
It isn’t perfect. While this week was really nourishing for me, last Sunday’s experience fell completely flat. I know part of that was my fatigue (and made me wonder if some days it would be healthier for me to stay home and rest). But I cannot focus on the imperfect part, other than to acknowledge that it’s there and much of it is my own issues. Part of me is surprised that I feel at home in such a formal expression of church. But the attitude and stance, welcoming and interested, of the people there makes all the difference. It’s a Presbyterian church, so we have many questions about baptism and covenants and membership and accountability. We figure that the best way to get those answers is to stick around awhile, get to know people, take an inquirer’s class, and ask those questions. I don’t know for sure that this is where we’ll land, but we’re planning to stay awhile.
What makes you feel at home in a church? What makes you cry in church, and is that good?