Since returning from my sabbatical, I’ve started sitting in the back of the sanctuary. For the 8.5 years prior to that, I sat in the middle section in the first third of the sanctuary. It feels strange sitting in a new pew, in a different part of the space. But, at the same time, it feels right.
Sitting in the back means there are a lot more distractions. People come in late. When the children leave during the middle of the service, there is one door on the side that stays open and I can hear them all running down the hallway. It’s just louder back there. Sometimes that bothers me – I want more silence and space to reflect. Other times it makes perfect sense – there’s a comfort in the distractions.
Yesterday as the choir began to sing Surely He hath Borne Our Griefs (E. Copley), a baby a few rows behind me got restless. The choir sang “Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” as the baby cried. I sat there and knew God was present. How could God not be? I was being confronted with my sorrow in the most direct way possible.
Next to me sat my best friend who is ready to deliver her baby any day now. Behind me sat a baby who struggled to stay quiet during a choir anthem. In front of me sat a college professor who was annoyed by the baby and kept looking back with disdain toward the family.
I felt sorrow about my relationship with my friend – one who I love but who I also need some distance from right now. I felt sorrow about hearing a baby cry – once again facing my infertility whether I want to or not. I felt sorrow about the man – how is giving dirty looks to a family being the welcoming and grace-filled church we claim to be?
And, in the midst of all that sorrow, there was Jesus carrying it all for me. There was Jesus, present on the cross, saying, “It is finished.” There was Jesus, willingly and knowingly, joining me in my sorrow.
It was a powerful moment. I was face-to-face with God in that moment. I was aware of my sorrow. I was aware of Jesus’ love. I was aware of God present in my friend, in the baby, in the man and in myself.
Jesus didn’t die because I sinned. Jesus didn’t die because you sinned. Jesus died because he had the audacity to say we are all loved fully and equally. Jesus died because he didn’t agree with the status quo. Jesus died because he was a threat to the carefully created social system.
God died because through that death, God experienced fully what it means to be human. God experienced fully our sorrow and pain.
My understanding of the cross may be different from yours and that’s okay. Doctrine doesn’t comfort my soul. Doctrine doesn’t ease my pain. I doubt it does for you either. What comforts us, what provides the balm for our soul is the love we experience from the One who loves with no bounds. What eases our pain is knowing that God understands and experiences that pain too. God carries my sorrow because God loves me. That’s it. It’s really not that complicated.
I’m grateful for those moments when I’m confronted with my sorrow in the back of the sanctuary among the distractions. Because it’s in those moments that I feel God’s presence most fully. It’s in those moments that I know I am not alone.