‘The service is about to start – but you can stay and sit at the back if you like.’ The voice came from a black robed Priest who, glancing up, I saw walking towards me.
I had been visiting a historic church building in England not fully realising that a service was about to start – possibly because there were only two older people sitting on pews in the vast building.
I thanked her for the kind invitation, wished her a good day and wandered out into the morning sunshine. The invitation of the Priest had been kindly and well meaning – but I could not help contemplating once again, as I have a number of times in life, that the invitation to the back seat, excluded from the intimacy and life of the initiated is such a far cry from the invitation of the Jesus the Priest claimed to represent.
My first experience of this was as a teenager here in Scotland when visiting one of our national churches – the Church of Scotland. At the appointed time the minister invited all who were Christian to take Communion. However, as I stepped forward to do so, I was informed by a church Elder that this was open to members only and that I would not be allowed to participate.
More recently I attended a Roman Catholic church service – and came away totally convinced that it was, again, only for the insider. In this case not knowing when to sit, kneel or stand, or whether I should be responding as others was a little embarrassing to say the least.
Earlier in the week I had heard ‘Annie’s Song’ (John Denver) playing somewhere in the background. In my contemplation of what had just happened in the Abbey building some of the words came back to me –
Come, let me love you
Let me give my life to you
Come, let me love you
Come love me again
What a beautiful invitation! And it is, I believe, the same as the invitation of The Father to you and I (think again of the parable of the Loving Father & Prodigal Son).
This is not an invitation to the back seat – the place of the observer, nor is it a place of exclusion like a ‘members only’ club or the awkwardness of a religious performance known only to the initiated – but an open arm welcome, an invitation to intimacy, to a privileged place at the table of fellowship set out freely by a loving, giving, caring God.
Of course this is what got Jesus into trouble with the religious leaders of his day. He was far too inclusive for their liking (Matthew 9:11).
Why is it that religion of all shades are so exclusive? Personally I am tired of that way of living. Rather, I look to a God whose invitation is always ‘come’! At His table and in His home I can take off my shoes – be myself, be honest, drink of his love and give myself to Him as he gives Himself to me. You also are invited to this place! And it is an eternal invitation!
The Spirit and the bride say,”Come!” And the person who hears should say “Come!” Anyone who is thirsty should come. Anyone who wants to take the free gift of the water of life should do so.
Revelation 22:17 (NIV)