Sunday night we visited St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Progreso, Honduras where Father Melo, who has been the host for our interfaith delegation, serves as priest. It was a beautiful service and the happiness of the faces of the congregation shown bright the presence of the Holy Spirit.
I am not usually happy about going to church. I served for years in United Methodist churches and I am presently a member of Culmore United Methodist Church in Falls Church, VA, which I love. But honestly, in my own personal spiritual journey, going to church has been a struggle. It just seems all too often a responsibility than a joy, more a routine than an opportunity for revelation.
But I was excited to attend St. Theresa’s tonight. Maybe it is because in a country where I am constantly dependent on others for language translation (yes, like a dope, I do not know Spanish well enough without translation), I wanted to be in the familiar context of a people journeying towards God, even in the place where life can be enormously challenging. For whatever reason, I wanted to worship Sunday night. I wanted to feel God’s presence and witness the Body of Christ offering themselves in worship to Jesus our Savior.
I was not let down. It was powerful. The people were welcoming and the worship was lively and invitational. There were several members of our group who graciously offered to translate the service as it was happening, but I sat away from the translators. I wanted to experience worship in the mystery of it and just take in the presence of the Spirit. I could pick up some words here and there and that was enough. But I experienced the joy of life’s celebrations as we celebrated the birthday of a little boy and the baptism of a young man who decided to come to Christ and join the church.
The baptism of the young man was very moving for me. We have spent all of our trip hearing the stories of people who are marginalized or oppressed in some way. We have heard about the extraction of resources by international companies and how people are being assassinated who attempt to bring this rape of their country to the light. We have heard the stories from an ethnic group, the Garifuna, who have historically been marginalized because they are darker-skinned and now, they face enormous pressure from the tourism industry who want to displace them yet again in order to build hotels and resorts for wealthy tourists. And we have heard the stories of mothers whose sons and daughters have disappeared – sometimes for decades – as they journeyed north to pursue their dream to live free from violence and poverty.
So, witnessing Jesus’ redemptive love and the church welcoming in another brother to the Body in the midst of hearing from people who are directly impacted by overwhelming forces of injustice is a sign that the Church is alive and growing and will provide times of joy even in the midst of pain and suffering. The gates of hell will not overcome the Church.
The most powerful time of worship for me was communion. Many Catholic churches do not practice an open table for communion (heck, too many churches of all denominations prevent people both from taking communion as well as administering communion and I’d love to see a completely open table!), but Father Melo’s sermon was about sharing and he said he especially wanted our delegation, which is interfaith, to receive freely the Lord’s Supper.
After I went forward and received the elements I went back to my seat and thanked God for bringing me to these amazing people. I thought about how communion is both a time to connect with Jesus, to remember how he instituted this practice for his followers so that we could remember his sacrificial love for all the world.
But communion is more than just for our personal renewal. It is innately community building. Communion brings us all together, no matter how old or young, rich or poor, educated or illiterate, women or men, straight or gay, no matter our race or ethnicity, our title or our lack of titles; no matter who we are or what we have done, the Lord’s Supper binds us into one community. Communion creates the world God dreams for us to live into.
An inherent aspect of the injustices of this world work to separate, marginalize, and isolate those directly impacted by injustice from those of us who benefit from those injustices. Our delegation has heard the stories of isolation time and time again from so many of the people we have listened to. And I have struggled with how to respond to this reality, not wanting to respond in the typical Northern, Anglo, male way of wanting to “fix their problems.” Listening and learning can be hard in that it takes discipline to not immediately rush out and do something that is as much about soothing my conscience as it is bringing about real justice and shalom.
But tonight, after I received communion, I sat in my seat and I praised God that God has brought me to the people of Honduras – a people who belong to God in the land God has created and given to them. And because of God’s love for us all my heart is with them. Because of God’s grace, I received God’s gift of being present in Honduras. And so I praise God for Honduras and for Hondurans, a powerful people hungry for justice and eager to love. Let’s God’s Kingdom come.