Mike and I have been visiting churches over the last six months. We are currently checking out a United Methodist congregation in Westerville. We’ve tried their traditional and contemporary services and plan to keep visiting each as we continue to get a feel for their community and theology.
This past Sunday we were in the contemporary service. They broke for the Methodist version of “Passing of the Peace,” and it was one of my favorite moments of the morning. Typically, this time consists of everyone awkwardly spinning around in a tight circle, never leaving their spot in the pew and shaking hands with everyone their arm can reach. We all usually say things like, “Good morning,” “Nice to see you,” “Glad you’re here.” I’ve always introduced myself when it comes to this time in the service. Even if your face looks familiar, I want you to know that your name and who you are are important to me. You, my hand shaking friend, are not a duty, but an opportunity to exchange Christ’s love.
In this new church, this “meet and greet time” was extensive free time. People were roaming from aisle to aisle, hugging band members, grabbing more coffee, mingling with the tech crew, hugging new and old friends. It was one of the very few times I’ve seen this “Passing of the Peace” time truly be used to pass peace, love and grace- and lasted at least 5 full minutes. I think I people-watched more than I mingled. I felt like I was truly in a sacred space. People (including the leaders) were flexible to let the Holy Spirit influence that time together within the congregation.
This incredibly sweet church lady comes up to Mike and I and introduces herself as Joanna. She’s probably in her 80’s, tells us her name three times and shakes both of our hands twice. She was thorough, but always smiling and so genuine. As she looked (what felt like) deep into our souls she smiled and said, “So good to see you. I hope to see you again next week.”
She walked away and Mike and I smiled at the sweetness that radiated from this woman. Our greeting time continued but I kept my eye on Joanna. I saw her wander a little and then walk up to the worship leader who had just stepped off the stage. She shook his hand, gave him a big hug and said, “So good to see you. I hope to see you again next week.” The worship leader held back a giggle through a tight smirk as he thanked Joanna and went to grab some coffee. I’m sure he was thinking, “Yes Joanna, you will see me next week, because you’ve seen me every week for 3 straight years” or something along those lines.
At first I thought, “What a cute little senile old lady… telling the people who are clearly here every week that she hopes to see them again.” But then, it kind of hit me… isn’t that how Jesus greets each of us every single day?
One of my old students mentioned once that she got frustrated with her peers at youth group sometimes. She was dedicated- at Sunday School, youth group, events, meetings, regular church services… But there were always a handful of students who came only once or twice a year. When those students walked in, the place went wild! Friends would run to the door to greet their old friend they hadn’t seen in months. This student who expressed her sadness would just fade into the background; she was always around, so no need to get excited about seeing her.
I’ve always thought of Jesus absolutely FREAKING OUT when I get “home” to this mysterious place in the sky. I see him running towards me, open arms, basically tackling me with a hug saying, “It is so good to see you!” and as Jesus continues to greet others he would say, “I hope to see you again soon.” Jesus would never let me leave his sight until I knew that he was so excited to see me again soon.
Sometimes we get lost in the routine of church- whether we’re pastors, congregants or volunteers, we can get over extended. We get lost in meetings and gossip and planning this or that. But that little old lady, Miss Joanna, showed me Jesus amidst the monotony of another church service. It didn’t matter if this was your first time ever in a church, or your thousandth time leading a service, she made it clear that it was so good to be near you, and she hopes to see you again next week.
That’s how Jesus is. Whether we’re coming to him for our daily quiet time, or we’re meeting him in a Sunday service, or maybe we’re shamefully crawling back after months or years from ignoring his presence, Jesus is and will always be saying, “So good to see you. I hope to see you again soon.”