I cry in church a lot.
I’m not the only one. Other people do it, too.
We cry for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes because it’s just so beautiful, those words of that song, or that sermon. Sometimes because something touches a sad nerve, or a bittersweet memory. Or because we all of a sudden get a glimpse of something, an insight or a truth, and suddenly some part of everything suddenly makes sense and it’s the truth that makes us cry.
Church is one of those places people cry.
Sunday was a very wet day.
For many reasons, but one of them was the sermon.
The text was 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 – on “discerning the body of Christ.” Which, our pastor said, Christians have often made into a text about who is not allowed to take communion because of this or that wrong idea or wrong behavior, but rather than going into all that, notice that in context Paul seems to be talking about discerning the body of Christ as the church, in the whole church, and so about including everyone in the whole church-the-body-of-Christ equally in that meal …
And then also on the first part of Psalm 147. Psalm 147 is a wonderful psalm anyway, and is liable to make me cry on its own, in particular the thought of God giving names to each of the stars. (Psalm 147:4)
But yesterday our pastor pointed out these things:
First, that the psalm alternates between expressions of God’s might and God’s care. The psalm praises God for God’s strength, God’s majesty – and for God’s tenderness, God’s kindness.
So, said our pastor, he doesn’t understand those who are against “sensitivity training,” who are against “political correctness” (he used those words) on the grounds that all the snowflakes need to “toughen up” and not be so “sensitive,” as if “toughness” were the only value, because in this psalm we can see that God is powerful, AND God shows tenderness and sensitivity and care.
I thought that was pretty bold. But that was just the beginning.
Second, he looked very closely at v9: “He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.”
And mentioned, what with it being World Communion Sunday, that the Bible will be heard in lots of different languages around the world. And that in lots of those languages, as in the Bible’s original languages, the little word “and” can have several senses.
Including the sense of “also.” Or even the sense of “even.” As in “even the young ravens when they cry.”
Which makes sense when we consider what we know about ravens.
Because we might be inclined to neglect the young ravens, if we were in charge of the food distribution.
Ravens are black – which in western culture, like literature, is the negative pole of the color polarity, which you’ll see if you do an analysis of Shakespeare, for instance. And they’re carrion eaters, so they are associated with death. This is what makes Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven so creepy, that ravens are a symbol of death, so we fear them. And because they are associated with death, they’re unclean in the purity system of ancient Israel, they are birds people can’t eat, can’t touch, they are polluted and polluting. So, extra creepy. And then, if they’re unclean, that makes them dirty. Dirt being something we try to get rid of, or not get in the first place.
So, in other words, “ravens” symbolize something, living things, we shun and fear and don’t want to come in contact with and avoid and would just as soon exclude. And definitely not feed, encourage to grow up and get full-sized.
And even to them, even to the young ravens, God gives food. God feeds them.
And then he started in talking about being a teacher in Indianapolis.
Where the students could be thought of as young ravens.
Because they were, a lot of them, black. Not only physically, but metaphorically, often angry a lot, and … and associated with death, there was a lot of death in their world … and feared … because isn’t that fear what makes us think it’s OK for someone to “stand their ground” … that fear so strong that even police are afraid of them, so afraid that we understand that they shoot young ravens – with impunity, because that fear explains and exonerates them we think … and they are dirty, because when you get your power or your water turned off it can be very difficult just to keep clean … so those “young ravens” might be people we would shun and fear and avoid and exclude, not people we would rush to invite over for dinner.
On World Communion Sunday.
The point being, this table of communion is not our table.
It is God’s table, Christ’s table.
And God comes, Christ comes, into the whole world, Jesus gives his life for the world, even the young ravens of the world.
[Could Jesus have been a “young raven”? A homeless man killed by the Romans, the police of the ancient world, because they were afraid of him?]
So if we are going to discern the body of Christ in this meal …
We are going to need to see the people who are here, and even the people who are not around the table … yet … and ask ourselves why they are missing … and if we have not used whatever power we possess to care for them … but see that we have been fearing, neglecting, avoiding, excluding … then we need to take that prayer seriously, “as this bread is Christ’s body for us, send us out to be the body of Christ in the world” … and bring them in.
At least, that was how I heard it.