It’s good when you sit listening to a sermon on a familiar passage and instead of beating yourself up about the improbability of ever attaining the desired outcome you find yourself saying “Yes! This happens!” Good, but rare. That’s what I felt yesterday, however, listening to a sermon on the Good Samaritan. Firstly, there was the delight of yet another new take on this familiar story – the familiar ones must surely be the hardest? - which filled in some more background to the “bad priest” idea to make us see that it wasn’t as simple as we might have thought. It’s interesting to contemplate that the human interpretation of what God requires of us might prevent us from making the instinctive human response to a fellow-human in need – does the church itself do that to us? Do we use the excuse of our human edifice to justify lack of spontaneity?
Because we had a clever wee link here to the business of what we do in the liturgy at the Peace. Some people don’t like it, for a variety of reasons – it breaks concentration, they’ve already said good morning, they don’t like to get too pally because we’re Scots and Scots don’t do this sort of thing (OK – I made that bit up). And after being told that it’s God’s peace we’re giving to each other, we heard that we’ll be doing it on a regular basis from now on and we’d better learn to like it. (You can tell there’s a bit of free interpretation going on here – I wouldn’t last a day as a parish priest.) It’s a matter, you see, of rethinking who your neighbour is, and loving them. Just like that.
But on Saturday I was at a team meeting for a Cursillo weekend. The very nature of these teams means that, in this case, 19 people come together to prepare to serve others – and to pay for the privilege of so doing. In the case of this team, many of them had never met before the first meeting. Their link was me – every one of them had met me before, and some of them are close friends. But by the end of that meeting, I knew that we had become a family. These people had eaten together, shared hopes and failures in conversation of considerable depth, and had learned from one another. This last took the form of learning how to give a ten-minute talk, and then submitting to constructive criticism of content, structure and delivery – all in the setting of the group. That’s easy for people like me (fill in your own description) but quite an ordeal for someone who’s never spoken in public before.
And by the time we came to the Eucharist, which more or less began with the exchange of the Peace, I watched my team embrace with all the ease and spontaneity that is often lacking in Scottish churches. The barriers are down among these people after 10 hours together. National reserve, inhibition, self-consciousness: gone.
I think it’s magic.
Go here to see pic in original context.