Archive for January, 2014

ImageJohn 1:29-42

“Come and see.” Earlier this week, I heard about a series of events at the Washington National Cathedral. The Cathedral opened the full expanse of its nave by removing all the chairs from the center area—so that people could experience it as they would have when Gothic cathedrals were first built. The Cathedral offered many special events this week in the open space: organ demonstrations, choral evensong, an evening of Tai Chi, labyrinth walks, special choral programs, and an overnight vigil with prayers and meditations for people of all faiths and people of no faith.

On Wednesday, I watched a time-lapse video of the removal of the chairs, then watched a short video as Canon Michael McCarthy introduced the concept behind this special week they called “Seeing Deeper.” He described the music for the thirty-minute Wednesday evening concerts, then for the seventy-five minute concert on Friday evening. As Michael talked, some of the music to be performed played softly—just enough to give me a hint of the musical feast. At the end of this promo, Michael said, “Come and join us.”

 There were the facts of what was going on. There was some sense of the music to be offered. There was an invitation to come and see, to come and listen, to come and experience glorious music in a vast expanse of holy space. So I did. On Friday, I drove to the Cathedral and walked slowly through that great space. People walked slowly and prayerfully on the two labyrinths laid out in the rear nave. Others sat in silence. I made my way up to the Great Choir for the concert. For seventy five minutes, polyphonic music rose and fell, spinning in pure tones throughout that great space. Music almost reflected like diamonds off the gray stone that soared towards heaven.

 About halfway through the concert, I realized how quiet people were. During the music, no one moved. No one fidgeted. No one checked their phones. No one texted. Amazing stillness—almost as if we all held our breaths during the music. I looked across the aisle at the rows of people facing me. Some of them looked back at me peacefully. One older couple sat linked arm and arm, the man with his eyes closed. Some people watched the choir with rapt attention. Others gazed upward, as if to watch the intricate harmonies of the music rise up to the vaulted ceiling. One woman seemed to be asleep between her friends. Some looked pensive and thoughtful. Some brushed tears from their faces with their fingers—tears that had come unbidden as memories were evoked—because Take Him Earth for Cherishing was written when John F. Kennedy died, and Song to Athene was sung at Princess Diana’s funeral.

As I looked around, it occurred to me that we had all come together as strangers, yet for an hour and a half, we were fellow pilgrims. Under the watchful eyes of shadowed saints in the windows, we embarked together on a journey of holiness and mystery. For a little while, our stories joined into one larger than any of us.

I could have found all of the texts by googling them. I could find the music on You Tube.(Yes, I did find the video of Diana’s body being borne out of Westminster Abbey while the choir sang Song of Athene.)  I could have read someone’s account of Friday evening’s concert and looked at pictures of that space without chairs. I could have gotten some sense of what happened, secondhand. But the experience of literally being there in holy space with people who were fellow pilgrims on a journey—that was different than any account I might have read.

 Someone had invited me. “Come and see.” I did, and my soul was fed. Somehow, my daily life was enhanced and enlarged. In that great space, listening to great music, my life regained proper perspective. Sometimes we go about our daily lives, forgetting that there might be another way. A better way. A way that is larger than we are.  In order for us to find that better way, someone has to point out the new way. Someone must invite us into that pilgrimage.

In today’s gospel, John the Baptizer is the one who points the way. John sees Jesus coming toward him and says, “He’s the one. It’s not me. It’s Jesus. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  “Look!”  Two of John’s disciples see John point to Jesus. They have been John’s disciples. John has commanded them to repent. John has likely baptized them in the Jordan River. Yet now, on this particular day, John says “The one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit has descended on Jesus as he stands, dripping wet, in the Jordan River. The Spirit has remained on Jesus.Image

The writer of John does not want us to miss this word. Remain. Stay. Abide.  The Greek root for both stay and remain is the same: menos. It has the connotation of permanence. In the Old Testament, God’s Spirit was given to prophets at particular moments or in particular situations, but it was not permanent. John makes it clear that Jesus has the power of God’s Spirit all of the time. Jesus is in permanent relationship with the holiness and power of God. It is obvious that John’s pointing to Jesus and naming who he is intrigues Andrew and the other disciple. They leave John’s side and begin to follow Jesus.

When Jesus turns and sees them, he asks, “What are you looking for?” Neither of them answer his question. Instead, they ask him a question: “Teacher, where are you staying?” Where are you remaining? Where are you abiding? Teacher, who are you? What is so amazing about you that someone would point and announce “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?” What are you all about anyway, Jesus of Nazareth? We want to know. Jesus simply says, “Come and see.” So they do. They remain with Jesus all day. They stay with Jesus. They abide with Jesus. They probably ask questions. They listen. They share their stories with Jesus. Whatever they say—or hear—their lives are transformed beyond what they do every day on a fishing boat. This encounter, then this journey with Jesus changes them. Years later, those whose lives are changed by this journey with Jesus begin to invite others to join them. And so it goes throughout the centuries.

Today, thousands of people have realized that we are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey. Deep in our souls, we know that. Yet too often, we forget it. We fill our time with busy-ness. Our Smartphones constantly vibrate with reminders of what we have to do next. We fill our spaces with clutter, noise and craziness until there is no place or space to think, to reflect, to wonder about something and Someone greater than ourselves. Yet despite our frantic frenzy, our lives are greater than the sum total of our “to do” lists. There is a Story that is larger than our own, thanks be to God. And because we forget that, it is really wonderful when someone looks at us and says “Come and see.”

If we pay attention to the words of John the Baptizer in this passage, we will see, as one writer has pointed out, “the entire shape of [Jesus’s] story: baptism, the beginning of his ministry, the transformation of followers like Peter, and, implied in the descriptive term ‘Lamb of God,’ even his death and resurrection.”[1] You and I have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Because of that, God changes us too. Our lives have deeper meaning. Our lives mean something to God and our stories mean something to God, because God created us and because our stories are part of God’s story of faith. The hope, the peace, the joy, the love with which God bathes us—it is this good news that formed the first Christian community. It is the good news that forms us now.  

We are all fellow pilgrims on this journey, but I wonder. I wonder if there might not be some people outside these walls who are not yet on this journey with us. We have not heard their stories. They have not heard ours. Their souls are hungry to be in companionship, to learn a larger story than their own. Who are they? You work with them. You play sports with them. You live in the same neighborhood. ImageYou see them at Starbucks or at the diner. What are they looking for?

They may not want to be part of a religious institution, but they do want to know how their lives can have more meaning as spiritual beings on a human journey. And maybe they are looking at you—your life, how you treat people, how you live your life—to see where you stay. Where you remain. Because if you say you live where Jesus lives, but you don’t live like it, they won’t want to come and stay there either.

            What if? Even if they don’t want to admit it, what it they are waiting for you to reach out, to invite them to join us on our journey here? What if the one thing someone is waiting for you to say is this: “Come and see”?

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton


[1] Troy A. Miller, in David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 1, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 265.

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