Last week I was on my way to an outdoor mass when the skies began to look threatening. Sure enough, as I pulled up, people were headed inside due to impending rain, and I found myself in overflow, socially distant seating downstairs in a church basement. Happy that the parish took such care to keep attendees safe, but not necessarily sure what to expect, I settled into my creaky metal folding chair, eyes toward a church basement stage. A set of green velveteen curtains were mostly closed, revealing the view of a casement window with a solitary tree outside.
As the mass went on, someone rushed downstairs to turn on a speaker so we could hear everything that was taking place upstairs, and we prayed, maybe a dozen of us all masked with our eyes faced forward. We saw no altar, though we prayed as if we did. We saw no celebrant, no lector, no vestments, no musician, and no Eucharistic rite, but we prayed as though we did. Listening intently to the readings, responding and kneeling just as we would have done upstairs, we couldn’t see what was happening, but we were actively spiritually participating, nonetheless.
It was humbling and real and beautiful.
There is so much about our faith that we can’t see, especially these days, when there is so much suffering and everything looks so dark. This unprecedented time brings us back to basics, to what we know to be true, to the presence of God among us even when we can’t see Him.
The early disciples faced a similarly bewildering time, in the upper room, wrestling with their fear and figuring out next steps. They couldn’t have known it at the time, but they were building a foundation of a whole new church, trusting in the presence of Jesus and remembering the miracle that changed everything.
When they emerged from that room, they were fortified, united, and changed. They had seen the resurrected Christ and been filled with the Holy Spirit. This ragtag group who couldn’t even stay awake for Jesus just days before became utterly transformed in that time. They knew their mission to spread the Gospel, to be salt and light to a world desperately in need, carrying their crosses into the challenging days ahead.
As I sat in my metal folding chair, eyes trained toward that window, the rain began to fall onto the solitary tree in the window. I glanced down at a young man’s hat on the floor with a picture of a fish, and it read ‘salty crew’.
As I sat there, I felt the power and clarity of it, the symbol of a fish that has stood for the early church since its inception, the reality of a tree as both the symbol of our suffering and our salvation, the rain that falls on each life, the knowledge of the reality of a church community as a ‘salty crew’. And I felt my eyes fill with tears because I know the weight and responsibility of it, and also the gift.
We can’t always see, but as Christians we’re called to remember and to pray. To embody the pain and redemption of the cross, to provide salt and light for a weary world, and to draw from the memory of what we know to be true even when it’s dim. So that we can, like the first disciples, walk out this Christian life in simplicity and truth, even in the storm