Maundy Thursday at Fourth Pres

About a block and a half from our hotel was a beautiful stone church. Sitting on the famous Magnificent Mile right across from the towering John Hancock Building, the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago looked like it came from some bygone era. On a plaque, we read that the building opened in 1914 when Michigan Avenue was a quiet stretch of road called Pine Street.

Tuesday we slipped out of the car horns and chattering sidewalks and into the sanctuary. All the noise melted to peace and quiet. It was like slipping through the wardrobe door. It’s rare these days that I walk into a church and get that feeling that there is something set apart about the place.

This is the same church on whose steps we’d seen a homeless man sleeping the night before. This morning, there were a handful of homeless men scattered among the pews along with a few more people praying in this gorgeous sanctuary.

We didn’t stay long because we had to hop a train to our day’s activities. On the way out, we noticed that they were having an afternoon Maundy Thursday service later that week.

There were a few more people in the sanctuary Thursday afternoon; probably three or four dozen. There was another service that evening that was likely better attended. There were still some homeless men sitting in the back. Thursday was the coldest day of the week; winds sliced in between skyscrapers. So the church was even more of a shelter than it had been a couple of days prior.

The service was odd and it was beautiful. Odd because it seemed like an intimate affair: a smallish number of congregants, two ministers, and five-person choir. But it took place in that enormous sanctuary. Each person could have had half a dozen pews to his or herself. And when the minister preached, she climbed stairs up into an elevated pulpit. It looked like she was preaching from a turret tower.

But it was beautiful because it was Maundy Thursday.

And it was church.

And we were reminded of the mandate that Jesus gave us to love one another.

And we got to take part in the Eucharist.

I love communion. Of all the rituals that we do in church, it is probably the one that is most meaningful to me. I don’t know if it’s because we reach out to take the bread and the cup. I don’t know if it’s because I’m tactile or symbolism connects with me for some reason. But I love it.

I noticed several of the homeless men in the back didn’t come to take communion. Most of them kept their eyes closed and heads bowed. I wondered why they did that. Maybe they weren’t Christians. Maybe they were asleep.

Yet it looked like one man buried his hands further into his hands as we all stood up from our pews; like he was hiding. This may not be what was happening in reality but I wondered: Did he think he was not worthy of the bread and the cup? Because I certainly wasn’t worthy either. No one in that sanctuary was worthy.

I can still see his face pressed hard into his hands.

And if I use my imagination, I can see my own face pressed into my own hands. I do that at times. Unwilling to accept the grace represented by the Eucharist. Believing that I screwed it up too much to take part not only in the Lord’s Supper, but in the life to the full which Christ calls me.

Sometimes I dwell on my failure. I wallow in it. I prevent myself from opening myself up to loving others because I’m not entirely sure that God could love me.

In those times, I need to remember that Maundy Thursday mandate that Jesus gave was this:

Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)

God loves me. God loves my wife. God loves that man with his face buried in his hands. God loves the young couple that sat a few pews back. God loves the ladies in fur coats that came in right before we started. God loved the older gentleman that sat by himself. God loves the minister reminding us of God’s love from the turret. God loves us and loves us so much that Christ laid down his life for us.

I am loved. We are loved. May we take our faces out of our hands, rise up, and walk into the abundant life to which Jesus has called us. May everything we do be in remembrance of the One who saved and saves us.

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