Fallen leaves gather on cobbled pavement. Swirling together. Making scraping sounds. Tiny melodies clobbered by footfalls. Saturday revelers dressed in school colors walking bar to bar. Bodies listing like sails in fall’s wind. Voices shouting slurred words. Blurry eyes focusing on nothing as day moves into dusk.
My steps among this crowd ring quiet by contrast. Hastily taken strides marking prayers for young strangers. Echoing unspoken truths. My internal petitions weaving in and out of beer and cigarette smells. Rising like incense with gusts of blustery wind. Hoping this blowing is Spirit.
Around the corner children play, run, giggle, shriek. On a playground next to the public library. Young children wrapped in sweaters and light jackets. Covered for safety against dropping temperatures. Many topped with yarmulkes pinned down. Parents relaxing on nearby park benches. Enjoying Sabbath, Saturday evening, and the ability to keep little ones somewhat safe.
Sounds of playing children join party noises. Follow me through an unlocked glass door at the corner. Into a small-business incubator space. Warm and quiet. Modern. Hip. Large windows overlooking playground, pedestrian mall, and hotel. Street’s song closing one Sabbath as my tiny Christian community readies for another. Setting up chairs. Covering kitchen table in gently used cloths. Tuning a saxophone.
Today is not Sunday, the first day of the week. A new week begun in morning praise and thanksgiving to God. Instead today is the end of the week, the very end. Last crumbs of what just passed by us. Lived with sorrows both large and small. Moments of joy. Maybe a bit of pleasure or even delight. Mixed with worries circulating in and out of a week’s dreams. No, this evening is not traditional Christian Sabbath. But it is something. Whatever this evening is, it clashes with the outside world.
Those of us gathered, chat. Welcome new people. Forget each other’s names. Find seats on sofas, stools, and chairs. Help pastors fuss with clergy wear. Show wandering, drunk people where the bathroom is. Then we quiet. Singing bowl’s ringing calling us in. Into worship. Further into God’s mystery. Into Sabbath. Breathing sacred in. Stillness accessing our hearts. Street noises harmonizing. Playing prelude with our quiet.
We begin. Our cry for God’s mercy falls over empty chairs, desks, the young entrepreneur still working at his station, his partner helping himself to coffee behind our table set with God’s meal of grace, the drunk man in the bathroom.
In our midst, a person stands. Reads God’s Word. We share our thoughts. Scripture’s words jumping out at us. Making us think and wonder.
“Thanks be to God,”
Hear Jan or Sarah preach. Surrounding us with more thoughts. Some shared. Some tucked safely within our hearts. Sing in response to God’s Word illuminated. Pray for those outside our borrowed walls. Share peace with everyone in the room. Sometimes more than once. No one wanting to miss one soul in our small group.
“Peace be with you,”
Peace sending us on a pilgrimage toward offering. Our basket set at the table. Hands ducking deeply into its depth giving and blessing. Staying at the table. Hearing old and new words of welcome here. Serving one another Holy food as if washing one another’s feet.
“Given for you,”
Night wafts in through the window as God’s blessing readies us once again for the world. But first we return to the table eating and drinking what is left of our meal together. Adding some cheese to the mix. Maybe a plate of cookies. Over food and drink, meeting new friends. Catching up with old ones. Somehow our faces glowing more than when we arrived an hour or so ago.
“The Lord bless, keep, and shine on you,”
Filled, we clean up. Blow out candles. Return chairs to the conference room. Strip the table as if it is Holy Week. Wash, dry, and stack dishes. Empty the baptismal bowl. Set it on a shelf in a shared closet. Place the cross there as well.
Then having broken our Sabbath fast, we open the door. Step over the threshold. Reenter the street scene still moving outside. Notice a few changes. Children and parents gone home. Eating dinner or readying for bedtime stories. Partiers winding down. Slumped in nearby diners eating starchy food.
“Go beloveds, fed and nourished,”
We stand on the sidewalk breathing in the world’s hurts. Breathing out Sabbath solace. Our breathe this night acknowledging our human and collective mess. Lift our palms up into night’s sky, sharing our restored peace. Sending Sabbath back into the world. Allowing night breezes to take Sabbath from us. Surround college students into the wee hours of morning. Land on church buildings’ doorsteps. Keep company with sleeping homeless men.
Sabbath entering churches the next morning. Not stopping, quieting, or staying still until last candles blown out after Sunday evening worship services. Last doors closed and locked. Sabbath hovering one silent second before flowing back into the world having shared God’s sacredness with all who hunger and thirst. Sabbath nudging us as it goes to be God’s peace in the world.
“Shabbat shalom, Shabbat shalom.”
Essay written in response to and with love for the community called JustChurch in Iowa City, Iowa.
Photos courtesy of Pixabay.