Shalom -- (Hebrew) Completeness, wholeness, health, peace, safety, tranquility, prosperity, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.
Yesterday, I finished moving out of my office, with the help of wonderful friends. I can't begin to describe how painful, emotional it was; I have poured my heart and my health into the congregation, whom I still love.
As we packed, we came upon things like photos from my Call Interview almost 5 years ago -- the Call Committee and I on a pontoon boat on Gull Lake, everyone looking windblown and eager; a day which felt more like a family reunion than a job interview. Photos of the many baptisms I did, babies clueless but families radiating such joy; pictures of weddings, confirmation classes. And precious little gifts from members, drawings from children...
When all the packing was done, it was time to say my final shalom to the building. I stood in the dishwasher room where I had worked elbow-to-elbow with members scraping and cleaning and loading dishes into the huge dishwasher. The Celebration Center where we had so many significant events, from Annual Meetings to the Bluegrass Gospel Concerts to the legendary rummage sales to congregational fellowship events. The Chapel rooms where I did so much teaching of both adults and kids, and participated in or led meetings, meetings, meetings….
Then on to the hardest place of all -- the sanctuary. With my arms full of the last batch of “stuff” I would load into my car in a few minutes, I walked slowly down the center aisle toward the altar as I did every Sunday for over 4 years. I stopped in front, bowed my head, and prayed for the congregation, as I also did every Sunday for over 4 years. I walked around the altar to face the congregation, and saw with my heart all of the people I had come to love sitting in the pews, looking forward toward the altar with expectation on their faces. The choir loft, where the choir and soloists proclaimed the Gospel to me every week. And the steps in front of the altar, where I first began doing Children's Messages, even though there were very, very few children in worship when I first arrived. After a few months, the number of children at worship began to grow, children who came barreling down the aisle for their special Message (and some wiggle time), some snuggled around me, some keeping a shy distance, but all eager and expectant.
Standing behind the altar, I spoke, slowly and deliberately, the opening Greeting/Blessing to the congregation which was gathered that day only in my heart:
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”
Their response echoed, “And also with you.”
I moved over and stepped up into the pulpit, where the Lord had used me continually to bring the Word of Life to worshipers in such a way that often surprised even me. As I gazed around the sanctuary, I blessed the congregation with the Benediction:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord look upon you with favor…
and give you peace.”
Hardly able to make myself leave, I walked out of that Holy Space. I locked the church door, got into my loaded-down car, sat there for a few moments until the tears stopped so I could see the road, and drove away.
Today, I am simply resting in the great lap of God, who promises in this morning's First Lesson: "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you" (Isaiah 66:13a).
Tomorrow? Tomorrow I move forward on this unpredictable journey of life and faith, dancing in the faithful, loving light of God.
"O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord." Amen. (ELW, Vespers, p. 317)