Today's Scripture Reading
20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Text provided by the Crossway Bibles Web Service.
What makes church, I wonder as the smoke tickles my nose. It irritates my throat and I cough. It stings my watering eyes and I close them. Then, in my mind’s eye I picture familiar surroundings. The African high-veld on a clear, cold, June, Sunday morning seems to stretch endlessly from KwaZulu-Natal to Matabeleland. I picture the insides of a small hut where forty, or so, squeeze together for worship. Most people sit on grass mats spread over the dung floor. A few hard wooden chairs and benches elevate some of us leaders into honored positions.
People apologize to me about the humbleness of the worship space: a hut of grass thatch, mud walls and dung floor, smelling of the cook-fires that have burned within and lit by greasy kerosene lamps.
Almost everyone brings their own hymn books. In accented cadences I hear the words of “Holy, holy, holy Lord God almighty, early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.”
Prayers said. Scripture read. The Gospel preached. Communion celebrated.
In a rude hut, in a poor community, people congregate, as they have for years, to worship the Divine who is behind all, above all and through all. We believe that God encompasses all that we do. Surely the Holy Spirit fills our worship.
The smell of smoke in my nose, the cadences of the songs in my ears, the hardness of the wooden chair under me says, “Church in Africa.”
But when I open my eyes I rediscover: The smoky smell comes from the incense censure swung by a priest. The accented words of “Holy, holy, holy,” pour angelically from the boys’ choir dressed in their frill-necked, Elizabethan choir gowns. The hard chair beneath my bum was gifted to the church five centuries ago by some Lord whose name I neither recognize nor remember. And the grandeur of Salisbury Cathedral rises around me on this Sunday, in the year of our Lord 2011. Surely, this magnificent building erected to the glory of God eight hundred years ago is church.
Layers upon layers of history, bricks and beliefs, fill the English countryside. We visit ruins of abbeys destroyed in the 16th century by Henry VIII. And solid cathedrals, missed by the ravages of kings and German bombs, touched only by the ravages of time, still tower to the heavens.
The spire of our own church, St. Andrew’s United Reformed Church in Brockley, in the London Borough of Lewisham, has stood high above the community since 1882.
Originally a Presbyterian church, it joined the United Reformed Church a half century ago. As we say the ancient Sursum Corda in each communion service, the layers of history come alive. As the 1967 United Reformed Church Statement of Faith fills the sanctuary each baptism service (we have 3-4 baptisms each month), the cloud of witnesses joins us connecting us through the years.
Church, whether on the arid plains of Matabelaland in Zimbabwe, on the Salisbury plain or on the twisted streets of London brings together the faithful of all ages and all places. The Jamaican, Nigerian, Ghanaian and South London accents in St. Andrew’s lift together to glorify and praise the God of all time:
"…our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home."
Today's devotion was shared by
Ana and Tod Gobledale
Ana and Tod are Associate Missionaries with the Common Global Ministries Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, and serve as co-pastors at St. Andrew's United Reformed Church Brockley, London, United Kingdom.