Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Sunday School Bell

I walked into a large library.  The type of library you think of when you think of old men smoking cigars surrounded by books.  I spotted a comfy couch to take my place.  I was late.  My entrance was not unnoticed.  Most of the faces were familiar.  I had seen these faces weekly for years.  These faces had grieved and rejoiced with me through so many events of my life.  I found tears near the surface.  How I missed my family.  How I missed the church family who had loved me for so many years.  They were still together.  I wondered if they knew the treasure they had.  Had they lost it as I had, they would know.

I was greeted with warm smiles.  Those I didn’t know probably wondered who is this woman?  I listened to the teacher.  I thought of the first time I saw this teacher.  It was almost 30 years ago.  Where has the time gone?  His wife had died tragically.  I never knew her.  I remember so clearly sitting behind him as we worshiped in a high school auditorium.  I would think how sad it was for his beautiful young daughter to have lost her mother.  I observed how she clutched her white Bible with the zipper cover ended with a cross.  I wondered if her mother had given it to her.  I didn’t know her, but I prayed for her.

The teacher remarried; his wife, a fellow schoolteacher.  She was there this morning to help me find my place on the handout and greet me with a warm smile.  I thought I should have gotten to know her better.  As the Sunday School time concluded, she rose.  She had a bell in her hand.  Memories flooded me.  The Sunday School bell.  She made her rounds to ring the bell signaling that classes should conclude in 5 minutes.  Churches have been ringing Sunday School bells since before I was born. It seems so odd and yet so familiar and comforting.

Hugs followed the lesson.  How great to hug these necks.  I followed people to the sanctuary.  I had no idea where to go.  More warm familiar face – some with looks of shock, most with looks of delight greeted me with their hugs.  Four of those people were there the day I first walked into that church nearly 30 years ago.  Others came after me.  So many years we journeyed from building to building sharing life’s joys and sorrows.  These were the brothers and sisters who watched my children grow.  They asked about them by name.

Filling the room were an assortment of people I had never seen before.  They were diverse.  Some appeared needy.  I thought once again about the words of Jesus in Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” 

The faces of the people told me that many needed freedom and were finding it in this house of love.  I saw a young man with a developmental disability waving a flag to express his worship.  I saw people of every color joining in worship.  Hugs were exchanged by people who normally would not cross paths but for the grace and mercy of God.  There had been a death that week of a young woman in the congregation.  There had been a community wide outreach including a march of 1000 people to pray for the city.  The church, still small, was mighty.

The pastor, my pastor through many trials, the pastor who I worked side-by-side serving the Kingdom- the pastor who gave me the first pulpit to preach from – saw me.  We hugged.  Later I would lead the congregation in prayer.

As I raised my hands in worship singing Holy Holy Holy, I thanked God to be home.  I thanked God that I survived all the trials that life has thrown my way since I left that holy place 10 years ago.  I thanked God that the Sunday School bell was still being rung.  I prayed God would either send me back home or give me a new home in a house of love.

As I got ready to leave a younger man who was now teaching the teens came to say hello.  He appeared to be African.  He shook my hand.  Then he said words that brought the tears again.  “I want to thank you for being part of the founding of this church and working so hard.  Because you did, I have this church for me and my children.”  I thought yes, it was because those who went before me ringing a Sunday School bell that I learned about Jesus and prepared me for taking my turn building the Kingdom in New Britain CT.  Now God had sent this man to take his turn there.

Only one life will soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

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