Something happened in worship Sunday morning that I NEVER have seen before. Not in 20 years of professional ministry — or the 20-some prior years of worship service attendance.
I was behind the table when I noticed it. (And I’m not talking about the time a few months ago when I spilled the juice all over!) Ruling Elders (those elected from the congregation to lead the congregation) were out among worshippers passing out the symbolic cup of salvation for all to drink. I looked up and there it was: a pile of mud smeared into the carpet right at the foot of the chancel area. It wasn’t there when we started. It must have happened along the way.
I was taken aback!
I realize this may sound ridiculous. After all, it has been a rainy winter in these parts. Mud has been all around us. Every time I take out my dog for his walk, I have to tip-toe through soggy grass and try to avoid coming back inside covered in mud — or worse yet, the remains from other dogs which not all neighbors are picking up (though the signs warn of fines for those who don’t!).
Mud. I expect it outside. I’ve NEVER seen it before on the carpet at the foot of the chancel area in a Christian sanctuary!
It got me thinking of all the ways we seek to keep our mud out of worship. According to the Genesis stories, we come from it. And I’ve buried enough people to know that we return to it — whether in airtight vaults or strewn ashes of our remains. But for the breath of the Divine, we’d be just that: some earth, some water, in other words: mud.
Why do we deny it? Why do we try to keep the truth from ourselves and one another so that we can’t be really real about who we are — even in worship, when we gather seeking the presence of The Presence? Why would we expect those who have been out in the world (trying their best to love the Holy, their neighbors, and themselves) not to have a little bit of mud on their shoes and in their souls? What if that mud got there in the sanctuary because whoever put it there had been going an extra mile for someone else’s benefit last week? What if that mud got there in the sanctuary because someone intentionally left it there to lay down the burden of where their feet had tread last week? What if that mud got there because someone, or The One, needed us to remember who we are, why we need each other, and what we are to be about in this world.
It really was a gift, that mud on the carpet at the foot of the chancel stairs this week. I was preaching about us being as on the go as Christ was in his life like one of us on earth — heading out and about in the world to embody the love of God for all those who need to experience it.
Seems as if someone already had been at it.