The Church Beyond the Walls
I am very excited because this week I officially became the “Missioner”of a community I have been involved with for the past two years called the “Church Beyond the Walls.” (I also continue serving as pastor at First Lutheran Church of East Greenwich, RI.) CBW is an outdoor street church, which follows the radical hospitality of Jesus. That means that ALL are truly welcome. This Saturday at 2:00 PM our CBW community will gather in Burnside Park in Providence, right next to Kennedy Plaza. The forecast says it will rain. We will gather anyway, as we do each Saturday, in rain, cold, snow, scorching heat, or lovely weather. We gather. We gather around the eucharistic table, there in the park, to be fed with the Word of God and the sacrament of holy communion. We gather to experience God-made-flesh for us in Word and Sacrament, and God-made-flesh for us in each other.
I love the way the Gospel is preached at the Church Beyond the Walls. The entire community reads the Gospel text together. Then the “preacher” cracks it open, by explaining it a little, giving some examples, and asking some questions. Then the whole community enters the biblical Story, the Story of God’s saving love for us, by sharing our stories: stories of sin and forgiveness, stories of endings and new beginnings, stories of brokenness and being made whole, stories of turning away from God’s presence, and stories of God inviting us to return Home, to come back into the embrace of God’s saving love. My favorite part of our worship is when we share these personal stories.
Four years ago when I went on sabbatical the topic I focused on was building community. I travelled to Turkey and Greece, to visit some of the places where the earliest Christian communities developed. I studied and wrote about the way Christian communities develop today. My theory is that just as Jesus gathered a community around him, and shared stories of God’s saving love and food (Word and Sacrament), building a community through deep, authentic relationships, so that is how we still build a sense of community today. Just as the earliest Christian communities gathered in small groups in house churches and outdoor places, and shared Jesus’ stories, and the eucharistic meal he told them to share again and again “in remembrance of me,” so we today build community, and experience God-made-flesh in sharing our stories, our own personal experience of God’s saving love, and in sharing the the eucharistic meal. Today, in Burnside Park, Christ is present in bread, in juice, and in the CBW community of sisters and brothers.
The early Christian communities then ended their time of worship with a fiesta, literally called an “agape meal” (pronounced “ah-gah-pay”). “Agape” is a Greek word for love, a word that the New Testament uses for God’s love, as experienced in Jesus Christ. The agape meal is literally a “love feast,” or an ancient potluck, because in the middle east, in ancient times and still today, we become one with others when we break bread together, when we share a meal together, when we celebrate together. As we break bread, we continue to share our stories, the stories of our daily lives, where we have experienced God’s presence during the past week. As we eat, and share our stories, we know Christ is with us, just as the earliest disciples experienced the risen Christ, as they gathered around a table for an agape meal.
Another thing I love about CBW is the invitation to the table:
“This is Christ’s table. Come, you who feel weak, and unworthy, you who come often, and you who have stayed away. Come you who love Jesus, and you who wish you could. Come sinners and saints, women and men, gay and straight. Come you who are sober, and you who are not. Come you who are homeless and you who have a place to rest your heads. Come you who are citizens of this land and you who are not. Here you are citizens of the kingdom of God. Now join God’s people at this feast prepared for you from the beginning of the world.”
Isn’t this what the Christian community in all places should be about? Shouldn’t every church, even those with walls, welcome all the people of God? Shouldn’t every Christian community follow the radical hospitality of Jesus?
How amazing that the Gospel for this week is the story of Jesus’ first miracle, or “sign,” at the wedding of Cana in Galilee. Marriage is about covenant. At almost every wedding at which I officiate, I quote the line from my favorite play, Les Miserables: “To love another is to see the face of God.” Each Saturday, I see the face of God in the faces of my sisters and brothers in our CBW community. My heart is glad and grateful as I look forward to celebrating our “marriage” this Saturday. Please pray for our CBW community and for me this Saturday, as we make a covenant with each other and celebrate our new beginning together.
This day, may you see God’s Light in all you encounter,
and may you reflect that Light to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright January 14, 2016
Photos: The eucharistic table at CBW; the altar at Pentecost, with Waylon and Linda; sharing time; our musicians, Maia and Sean; the eucharistic table; the whole CBW community; open cross, Stations of the Cross path, Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, NM