The Rev. Andrew K. Barnett
Today’s Gospel: John 6:41-51
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35). There is a hymn on this text, and it features a soaring chorus, “And I will raise them up on the last day.” Now I have to tell you, I don’t love this hymn. But I once served a church that did. One felt an ecstatic utterance when they sang I am the bread of life; it signified the abundant life Jesus promises.
There was a tradition that the congregation would hold hands in the air during the chorus. The clergy had mixed views, and I will admit to placing bets on who would partake, and who would suddenly find that their hymnal required a two-handed grip. May I remind you, I come from Minnesota, where emotional responses are reserved for baseball and fishing.
So there we were on Easter, at the altar, after communion. We had just impressed ourselves with quite a fancy liturgy–thank you very much–and the organist leaned into the hymn I had dreaded all morning. The congregation glanced around to see whose hands would defy gravity and common decency. All three of us at the altar hadn’t made our decisions yet. And then I looked at the ushers at the back of the room. I kid you not: three grown men were gesticulating like little kids. They were holding hands in the air, practically jumping, and one guy was mouthing the words, “Come on!”
So we went for it. All three of us proper Episcopalians did. We gulped, grabbed hands, threw them in the air and sang our hearts out, even as I mentally critiqued the theology of the middle verses. The organist pulled out all the stops (I thought the trumpets were a bit much), church felt like a revival, and I’m pretty sure I heard cheering in the back.
Afterwards, I can’t tell you how many people said that singing that hymn was the highlight of Easter. I learned something that day: to let my preferences take a backseat to the needs of the community. Have you ever had an experience like that? How might God change us when we open ourselves to the needs of the community, even and especially when it means placing our own desires to the side?
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Help me to decrease so that you may increase, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
Prayer In the Morning, adapted
Grace Cathedral: Prayers for Difficult Times