If you are a United Methodist clergy person under appointment, the first Sunday in July is often the first day of the rest of your life, or at least your life until you’re appointed elsewhere. The First Sunday is your formal introduction to a new community/church/ministry/parsonage/school and all the other support relationships such as dentists, doctors, plumbers, and farmers’ markets and good barbers.
That “firstness” was our shared experience of ministry and marriage since 1978. Bill and I shared “firsts” as pastors until we traded Almost Heaven for the Garden State. That marked my transition from pastor to pastor’s wife. My work at Drew was rarely recognized as “ministry” in the 10 small congregations who needed someone to work with the children, the choir, the UMW and so on.
This was the First Sunday in 36 years when we are not being introduced to a new community of faith. Bill celebrated this First Sunday by sitting on a porch drinking coffee and reading the Sunday paper, (although he made an appearance at this Sunday evening Bible Study.)
I debated the choice of the two UMC churches I’ve attended during my sabbatical. Pisgah (pronounced Pisgee by the folks who know best) is a small country church with a talent for evangelizing visitors and a gifted Sunday School teacher for the “old folks”. They were having their First Sunday with a new pastor so I make my way to the town church in Elizabeth whose pastor is very Wesleyan when it comes to the Table.
His gift for presiding reveals the real Presence too often concealed by bad theology or poor table manners. I can participate in the under sung praise songs that the young adults prefer, knowing there will be prayers from the early church, a Trinitarian thanksgiving and at least one traditional hymn that everyone knows by heart. I go looking for Mystery in the midst of the ordinary as a participant, not a leader of worship.
The surprise/mystery is waiting in the sanctuary. The altar/table has been transformed into a Time Machine. It’s not a Cokesbury made-to-order VBS poster, but a three dimensional hand-made creation. I double-check my guess about what the creation is with the two little girls in the pew in front. A time machine, it is.
I encounter the second mystery on the small table covered with white linen. Christ’s table is waiting. I think about Augustine’s insight into the time and space mystery of Sacrament: ” remembering into the future”. That is the reality of Reality. Christ’s table is the real time machine. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. This is the First Sunday of the rest of our lives.