The voice on the other end of the phone was my wife, Jane. She wanted to drop by my office and talk about her manuscript and how it would impact the next Sunday’s church services.
At the beginning of our marriage she had begun writing a story about her new venture: the completion of post-graduate studies in Religion, ordination following graduation from Seminary, and her application and calling to University Memorial Cathedral as Senior Pastor.
The circumstances of that event which made such a huge change in Jane’s life were unusual, to say the least. My wife, ubër wealthy mainline Protestant socialite, leaped over more mature, experienced and scholarly applicants chiefly due to her highly valued speaking skills which drew enormous crowds to formerly prosaic and sparsely attended Sunday services. The twist: Jane was an unbeliever.
The book was meant to document this experiment into human psychology. Jane had made a bet with a seminary classmate that she could preach Biblical material to educated, sophisticated and modern “Christian” congregations, and they would never suspect she herself could not believe in God.
Several years after her ordination and assumption of that pastorate, Jane had, as near as I can determine, experienced a spiritual upheaval. She hadn’t shared much of the event with me; I think she (rightly) feared my ridicule. Not only did I consider myself an agnostic, I knew the real Jane, knew that she could be tough, cold, driven and impatient. Not a person you’d consider even a “God-seeker,” much less a true believer.
This unofficial experiment continued for several years. While she continued fooling the masses, I was unaware that her writing project had already been conceived and was developing within the womb of the Spiritual hothouse which characterized church-sponsored University campuses. I was, however, noticing a growing change in Jane.
As with the last few weeks of a pregnancy, there began to be stirrings within the lush, distended confines of that Spiritual body that was Jane’s church. Jane—their spiritual head—seemed conflicted; impatient about something unstated and unknown, as though being hounded from within. Jane became almost soft, a blushing of skin and fluttering of hands indicating some kind of agitation I could only guess at. It was like she was strangely embarrassed in my presence, quiet and reserved, hesitant to speak her mind. She referred to her writing occasionally—although I had only a vague idea what she meant by it.
Then came the culmination of this gestation period. As she had warned me before “the” Sunday, the sermon began with Jane reading aloud from her book. Its honest and emotional relating of Jane’s last five years, culminating in her recognition of The God she gradually had become intimately acquainted with, reached the hearts of her listeners. Now came the transition period: the message of the Body and the Blood of Christ.
The flock’s Shepherd, usually a cool voice of reason and a picture of propriety, stood at the pulpit, gazing out at us. The organist, aware of a pregnant pause, dropped his hands to his lap. The silence from the organ created a small stir among the choir. The tension spread quietly throughout the large sanctuary until the congregants, feeling an almost electrical charge, stared as one at their minister’s transformed, weeping face.
She began reading again: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness [she stressed the word] of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”*
“Do you believe this?” Jane asked us all. “If you do—and only if you do—you are welcome to partake of the Lord’s Supper. “
A prayer of confession and commitment followed, then: “Please allow the Elders to lead those partaking to the altar, and God bless you as you receive the Body and Blood of Christ.”
While this was taking place, Jane spoke again: “Those who feel unready to receive this sacrament today, please meet with me in the Chapel following the service.”
I was the first one in the Chapel to greet my Pastor.
* Matthew 26:25-29 (NIV)
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