it is from dust that you have come, and to dust you shall return February 13, 2013
I’ve never been much for sacraments.
I didn’t grow up observing Advent or Ash Wednesday. My first experience with communion happened when I was sixteen, and before my friend would pass me the wafers she shout-whispered “WAIT. ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?” Every so often I would give something up for Lent, not because I understood what that meant or what the purpose was, but because everyone else was doing it and I like a good competition. “You’re giving up soda? Please. I’m giving up chocolate, fast food, television, sleep and talking to people.”
(Do you think I could get away with giving up talking to people? Maybe next year.)
But as my faith has gradually shifted away from evangelicalism and towards… something, I’ve been very interested in the liturgy of the mainline and high churches and the practice of spiritual disciplines and the observation of the church calendar.
As an ordained pastor at GracePointe, every now and then I am called upon to participate in the sacraments. Serving first communion, anointing newborn babies, baptizing. Or, as was the case tonight, administering the ashes on Ash Wednesday.
I do not love doing these things. I love the idea of them, and I love that they are happening, and in theory I love that I can play a small part in these significant moments in people’s spiritual journeys. But I HATE getting up in front of everyone and actually doing them.
There are superficial reasons for this, for sure. I worry about what I should wear, if my hair looks okay, what to do with my face. Do I look scared? Am I doing this right? Is my robe too long? WHY DO I HAVE TO WEAR THE ROBE AND THE STOLE AHHHHHH.
But I think the real reason is much deeper. I don’t speak the language. I am totally comfortable speaking in front of a big crowd, but I still get nervous when I have to pray. My (very large) cynical side doesn’t trust the ritual or the lights or the music. I don’t feel good enough. Trained enough, spiritual enough, pastoral enough. I’m going to do or say something wrong and then everyone will know I’m a fraud.
This isn’t my pastoring. My pastoring doesn’t happen on a stage, in a robe, with adults. My pastoring happens in a circle of high school girls, discussing why, when they wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, nobody was worried about punishing the guy. Why their parents won’t get off their back about their APUSH grade. What to wear to prom.
I always go into these big-church pastoral situations with a bit of dread in my heart and tonight was no exception.
So imagine my surprise when, as I stood there holding the grape juice and telling people, over and over again, “The blood of Christ, shed for you” as they dipped their bread, I got a little emotional. A lot emotional, actually. Voice-cracking eyes-watering get-it-together-for-the-love emotional.
I watched people approach the table cautiously, unsure of what to do. I watched them wait for me to give them a slight nod and raise the cup to show them it was okay. I watched them close their eyes, take the bread, whisper “amen”. One lady asked me if anyone had put their mouth on the cup before she would dip. A couple of my youth girls approached with nervous giggles. An older man whispered nervously before he dipped, “Is this wine or grape juice?” and sighed with relief when I assured him it was juice.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable in those moments. Maybe I’m not supposed to be. Maybe my nerves and insecurities and doubts are wholly appropriate for the holy moments that happen when we take communion and wear ashes and anoint babies and baptize students. When an alcoholic is afraid that holy wine will prohibit him from partaking in the body and the blood. When teenagers who have no idea what Ash Wednesday is all about show up anyway, waiting patiently in line for their ashes and reciting the liturgy.
When a cynical, accidental pastor can’t hold a cup and look people in the eye without tearing up.