About this blog: Discussing religion, spirituality and values. About the writers: Amy Umble is the religion reporter for The Free Lance-Star. Janet Marshall is the religion editor for The Free Lance-Star.
"The blood of Christ, spilled for you."
I offer this for worshippers at yesterday’s Revolution services. They went without the traditional sentiment during Communion. And it’s kind-of my fault. I’ll explain more later.
I had this new idea, to occasionally visit houses of worship and blog the experiences. The inspiration came after reading Sundays in America, a book about a reporter who visits a different church each Sunday of a year and explores different Christian faiths. I loved the book for so many reasons, and one was that it really explains what it’s like to be a religion reporter and visit a new congregation at least once a month. It’s such an honor and so enlightening. But also a little bit intimidating.
I decided to start with Revolution, a one-year-old small, emergent congregation in downtown Fredericksburg. I love the intimacy of its services, held on the third floor of 810 Caroline Street, in a roomy loft that also hosts art shows and concerts. I’m intrigued by the emergent religious movement, a relatively recent trend that aims to take Christianity back to its roots and strip it of its denominations. And, I like that Revolution meets at 4 p.m., so I can still catch morning services at my own church.
As I got ready to go, my 11-year-old son indicated he wanted to come. I hesitated. Ever since I’d first visited Revolution, the Rev. Scott Erwin has asked me to bring Xander to services. But I never bring him to worship services. He has a severe form of autism, and he can be disruptive on his best days. But at Revolution, children often play during the sermon, and the service is as laid-back as any I’ve been to. And Xander was batting his blue eyes something fierce. If anything, I figured Erwin would never again ask when I would bring Xander to a service.
Worship was more intimate than usual. Everyone sat in a circle of chairs, and first, we just talked about different issues in our lives. Then, it was time for the sermon. This isn’t a traditional pastor at the podium deal. As a small summer storm raged outside the wall of windows in the loft, Erwin told the story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32). "When have you wrestled with God?" he asked.
Then he suggested we don’t often wrestle with God. With church, with leaders, with theology, with our spouses, with ourselves, but not with God. Why not? Church members suggested it was because we have trouble recognizing God, because he’s not as real in our lives.
Erwin added that struggling hurts. Jacob refuses to let go during the struggle. And in the end, he’s given a blessing. God changes his name to Israel, which means "one who strives with God." And that name is synonomous with God’s chosen people–those who wrestle with him. But so often, we give up first, we take the easy way out, the way that doesn’t hurt, Erwin said.
We talked about that some more. The sermon felt more like a conversation, and in the emergent movement, people often refer to worship groups as conversations rather than churches. The movement is about changing the dynamic of worship.
After the sermon, Erwin announced it would be a silent Communion. Often, they have music during Communion, but not this day. He held the plate of bread, and he called my son over, asked him to hold the goblet of juice.
My first reaction was to refuse. Xander’s never even taken Communion. He couldn’t possibly understand the significance. What if he drank the juice before I could stop him? Or spilled it?
But Xander was reaching out, taking the cup, and I let him hold it. And I held my tongue. The worshippers lined up, took pieces of bread. One by one, they dipped their bread in the cup of juice my son held. Nonverbal, he couldn’t speak to them as they symbolically took the sacrifice of Jesus’ blood. And I have no idea if he understood any of what was going on. But he never drank any and he didn’t spill.
Afterward, I admitted my discomfort to Erwin. "The whole time, I worried Xander would spill Jesus’ blood," I said.
"That would be OK," he said. "Jesus spilled Jesus’ blood, too."
For more on the emergent movement, visit www.emergentvillage.org