I wasn’t keeping track of time exactly, but I’m pretty sure that it didn’t take as much time for 30,000 people to receive communion last Sunday morning at Ford Field in Detroit, than it does on any given Sunday at St. Luke. This is not a complaint, just an observation that I think is interesting. How can this be? Well, the reason is that there were probably 500 communion “stations” conveniently located throughout the stadium. To my knowledge, nobody had the opportunity to kneel, but everyone was welcome to the Lord’s Supper.
It would be practically impossible (nor advisable in my opinion) to have such a massive gathering as a normal occurrence for weekly worship, but it does provide an opportunity to reflect on and experience the rich diversity that is the Body of Christ.
My experience of the ELCA Youth Gathering in Detroit last week provided a great deal upon which to reflect. I can report that I frequently felt overwhelmed and outnumbered. Perhaps such large crowds of people remind me that I have a propensity to anxiety in such saturated social situations.
So, what I was able to do was be proactive in engaging individual people as opportunities presented themselves and I was inclined.
There was a man named John who I encountered on a visit to a neighborhood that is home to the Heidelberg Project. Our tour bus turned down the street and parked right in front of his house. John was standing behind the fence in his front yard with a look of disgust on his face. Among the first off the bus, I walked up to him to say hello. He was upset that the bus parked where it was -- that the exhaust fumes filled the air and drifted into his home. Point taken.
I spoke with the driver of the bus and suggested she park the bus on the next block that was clear of any residences. There were just abandoned lots where once homes stood. The bus moved.
We took about 45 minutes to tour the “installation” of the Heidelberg Project. By the time we were getting back on the bus, I noticed that John had emerged from his fenced in yard and was engaged in conversations and “selfie” photo-ops with many of the youth in the larger group. He was standing now in the middle of the street with broom in hand, sweeping up shards of broken glass. The pride that John had in his neighborhood and in his city was clearly evident. By now, John’s disgust was transformed into delight in his encounter with the curious ELCA youth who had taken the time to not only visit the project, but visit with him.
But John’s transformation was just one of many. When I first encountered John less than an hour before, I had quickly determined that he was just a grumpy old contrarian who simply wanted us young folk to get off of his front yard. However, what I came to realize is that John was just like any one of us who simply desire to be seen as a unique person with a story to share. John was real, authentic, vulnerable, and courageous. He risked encountering a bunch of out of town unknowns. And he delighted to commune with us as his brothers and sisters.
Clearly, I do not have a comprehensive understanding of the totality of John’s life story. But, taking into account his age, race, and longevity in Detroit, I can only guess at the struggles, adversity, and challenges he has faced in his years and which still confront him in the unfolding story of his hometown.
Maybe the overwhelming nature of the 30,000-person gathering created the willingness in me to see this individual on his own terms and in light of God’s desire for His creation to be reconciled to one another. When I got up that morning and boarded the bus, I hadn't anticipated that I would meet Jesus in a man named John. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see past my initial presumptions and prejudice.