Last weekend I was grumpy in church. Our family’s schedule forced us to attend separately so I sat down in my pew with three older children. I should have been better able to concentrate because I would not be required to wrangle toddlers and bickering boys. But the chip on my shoulder remained firmly in place during the processional and opening prayers. The Scripture readings began.
From Jeremiah 31:7-9; “For Yahweh says this: Shout with joy for Jacob! Praise! Shout, Yahweh has saved his people, the remnant of Israel! Watch, I shall bring them back from the land of the north and gather them in from the far ends of the earth. In tears they will return, in prayer I shall lead them. I shall guide them to streams of water, by a smooth path where they will not stumble. For I am a father to Israel.”
Well, it wasn’t my joy.
We sang Psalm 126 in ancient, back and forth response, “The Lord has done great things for us and we are filled with joy! When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men dreaming; our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy. Those who sow in tears with reap with songs of joy.”
My chip began to slide amid all the songs of joy.
The epistle reading was from the beginning of Hebrews 5, about priests being called by God and Christ being named God’s Son and a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.
My issues seemed smaller in the grand scope of high priesthood and sin offerings and such.
Then we all rose to hear the tender story of Blind Bartimaeus from Mark 10. “Son of David, Jesus, have pity on me.” Over and over, even when the locals shushed him. “What do you want me to do for you?” asked the Lord. “Master, I want to see.” And finally, “Go. Your faith has saved you.”
We sat back down for some quiet time during our parish prayers and songs. A crucifix is at the front of the church, our reminder that “Greater love hath no man than this, but that a man lay down his life for his friends.” We also have on either side of it, life-sized statues of Joseph and Mary. I prostrated myself before them in worship, tossing some gold jewelry before them. Just kidding. We don’t worship images any more than a wife staring at a photo of her late husband is worshiping the photo, an American moved to tears before a statue of Abraham Lincoln is worshiping the statue, or a child enthralled with his nativity scene is worshiping Little People. They illustrate something important like the golden cherubim covering the holy ark or the bronze serpent lifted up in the desert. Our immortal souls are housed in bodies with senses and these images are good reminders of our friends, our mentors, our role models, and our Lord.
While gazing at our painted figures of Joseph with his staff, leaning over protectively; and Mary with the child Jesus, looking always at him, the chip on my shoulder slipped completely off. Not only does the Creator of the universe know me, love me, and freely give me grace, these precious ones who are perfectly alive with him in heaven love me and pray for me as I follow him. I am indeed “Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” and I can “Run with perseverance the race set before me, looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).”
And then we celebrated the feast of All Saints this past Sunday, a joyous Mass to remember that great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone on before us and who pray for us just as we here on earth pray for each other. Of course, the children enjoy the evening before even more – Halloween, the holy evening before the feast! We dress up and make fun of death, which has lost its sting, so obvious the next day for All Saints. We often attempt to give a spiritual twist to their planned costumes. One son wanted bloody clothing, so we wrapped him in a robe, painted red spots and called him Stephen, the first martyr. One son wanted to be a mummy, so we circled him in old sheets and he was Lazarus, called from the grave by Christ. Our teenage daughter wanted a garish latex wound so we glued one to her neck and she was Cecilia, martyred by the Romans. My favorite was a few years ago when one of our sons made a cardboard scythe and wanted to wear my Irish cape to be the grim reaper. I allowed it and taped a sign to his back that read, “Where is your sting?”
So my grumpiness passed. The scripture readings were timely; the statues were reminders; and the Savior has opened heaven’s door. Plus, Halloween was fun and our dearly departed were honored. Hallelujah and Maranatha.