|HFASS 2012 Community Art Mural, "The Last Supper"|
(Credit M. Nickoloff for photo)
What is Gospel? Let me tell you a story…
This past Saturday during the Easter Vigil at my home congregation I had the honor of being the baptismal sponsor for my good friend Sherry. I invited Sherry to worship last spring with me. She has no experience whatsoever in a faith community, although I did not know this until she did not come up for communion for several weeks in a row. I asked her if she wanted to take communion with me one Sunday, and she remarked that she was too afraid that she would be turned away from the altar (click through to explore what this means) because she had not been baptized.
I repeated what our pastor says every Sunday, “This table belongs to the Lord. All are welcome.”
That is it.
Not, “All baptized believers may come forward to partake in communion.” (Which is a common refrain in many congregations.) Sherry says that every time she communes, she feels closer to God and knows that she is loved and belongs to this community and to God.
Fast-forward about 8 months. Sherry is still attending church, volunteering to take on projects in the congregation, and participating in a Lutheran Catechumenate class. Our pastor asks if Sherry wants to be baptized at the Easter Vigil, which is a traditional time for baptism in the church. Sherry is overcome with emotion when she says, “Yes. I want to belong to God.” THIS is Gospel.
On Saturday evening I had the privilege of holding Sherry’s hand as I presented her for baptism. And together we witnessed the pouring out of the waters, along with 148 other people. And as she was anointed with the sign of the cross, “sealed and marked with the cross of Christ forever,” I felt tears well up within me too. I am the Godparent for a 60-something woman and I could not be happier. In her baptism, Sherry experienced a death like Christ in that she might also experience eternal life in him. And that is pretty awesome.
We are already beloved children of God. All of us. No matter how kind or mean or ridiculously smart or decidedly dumb any one of us might be. Our baptism and regular partaking of the Lord’s Supper remind us of this Gospel promise.
The Gospel is a promise that endures in spite of whether or not we understand how or why or when or where. It is God claiming us to be God’s own regardless of our past, present, or future actions. The Gospel is a continuing conversation that is alive in our relationships and conversations. It is God working through, in, with, and among us.
The Gospel is the completely ludicrous idea that God loves us apart from anything we do to deserve it. And says, “You are mine and that is all that matters.”