Friday, January 21, 2011
“Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 5:3)
January 30, 2011
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 5:1-12 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Bounding into the hospital’s pastoral care office on a recent Monday morning, fellow chaplain Karen was anxious to tell me of a church project in which she’d participated and that had just been completed. Perhaps to catch my attention or maybe because the whole idea was still swirling excitedly in her mind, she began the narration in the middle of the story: “So, I cut off the bottom of my wedding dress and took it to church on Sunday.”
“What? What did you say?” I turned from the computer screen on which I’d been transfixed prior to her whirlwind arrival and, sure I’d heard incorrectly, asked her to repeat what she had just told me.
“I said I cut off the bottom of my wedding dress and took it to church on Sunday.” Laughing at my astonished expression, she began at the beginning. “My church, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, began a project a while back that engaged all the parishioners in an unusually creative way.” Then Karen filled me in on the details of “Weaving the Tapestry of Our Community.” The website created by the project committee describes best what Karen was so excited about:
“St. Andrew's Episcopal Church is much like a tapestry – an interwoven and continuous fabric made from many strands. Each strand is lovely alone. Together they are surpassingly beautiful. Each time we add a new strand – each new person, program and ministry – we add to the beauty and strength of our fabric.
“Our history, our liturgy, our community – they all come together to create one whole, a united and beautiful weaving. And this cloth has no end – we continue to bring new colors and textures to it each day.
“In the autumn of 2010, the people of St. Andrew's came together to weave a tapestry. The weaving took place over 5 weeks. The looms were brought out every Sunday and a crowd soon formed around them. People of all ages participated, the old teaching the young how to count the threads and gently push the fabric strips together. Many parish members wove with fabrics they had brought from home which had sentimental meaning. The Rector and Bishop were given strips of old vestments to add in. No rules for adding colors or patterns were used – each weaver added what he or she most wanted.
“A team of six worked to place all of the finished panels made during the weaving together into one large piece. The pieces were now an altar frontal – the fabric which hangs down over the front of the altar during worship services.
“The St. Andrew's Tapestry stands as a symbol of the people and community of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church – many colors and textures brought together into one united fabric.”
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After getting the full background of the project, I remembered Karen’s earlier exclamation, and it now made complete sense. Recently married, she’d judged her wedding dress to be her most precious fabric. So, with a snip – snip – snip, a strip of the dress was brought to church on Sunday and woven into the tapestry. While Karen’s photo did not appear among the many on the website depicting parishioners weaving their lives into the emerging tapestry, I had to wonder about the significance of the bits of cloth these pictured parishioners had brought with them to church. What precious fabric had they chosen as gift to God, as sign of their unity as members of St. Andrew’s Church? That smiling young woman cradling an infant: had she just woven into the tapestry a snippet of her newborn’s baptismal gown? And the elderly woman holding to her heart a strip of dark fabric. Had it come from the suit her recently-deceased husband always wore to church on Sunday? What about the young man holding up a high school football jersey with one hand, a pair of scissors with the other? Maybe he was returning to God the trophy of a winning season – or maybe it was a somber symbol of defeat.
While I could only guess at the details of each photo, the significance was clear. All of these people were engaged in assembling a visible and holy sign of themselves as Christian community. The tapestry, now complete and adorning the altar at St. Andrew’s, held the hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows of the people who weekly gathered at this altar to be fed by God.
The familiar gospel passage we hear this day is also a tapestry of sorts, Jesus weaving together under the title of “blessed” those whose need of God is expressed in a multitude of ways. Woven into this spiritual tapestry are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, peacemakers, and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness.
And the list could go on and on, I suppose. Looking at the photos of parishioners assembling St. Andrew’s tapestry, I’m inclined to expand on those Jesus calls “blessed.” How about these: Blessed are the proud but weary parents of newborns, for they will one day receive a full night’s sleep. And blessed are those who have recently buried a spouse, for they will soon experience a heavenly reunion with their beloved. Also blessed are youthful football heroes, for their spunk will serve them well in the challenges ahead. Yes, the list could go on and on, parishioners of St. Andrew’s blessed in the ways they’ve offered their lives to God, blessed in the ways God has fed them from the altar now adorned with the tapestry they’ve created.
The Christian community is, indeed, a ragtag bunch of God-hungry indigents. It’s a truth St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church not only affirms but celebrates. You can see it in the completed tapestry pictured on the church website. The woven cloth adorning the altar is not so much a thing of beauty as it is the communal work of a beautiful group of people. There’s beauty in their closeness as, together, they bend over the loom to place a prized snippet. There’s beauty in their closeness as, together, they approach the altar to be fed – this ragtag bunch of God-hungry indigents.