Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The cloud of witnesses

This week is the "official" start of classes, although for us summer Greek-ers, it feels like we have been around forever. All jesting aside, today was THE convocation to open classes. Now I know that some people find all of the hoopla a little tedious or excessive. To the contrary, I actually found this very moving. I always liked academia in the "traditional" symbolic processional milestone moments. And then of course we are in the chapel, known as the Church of the Abiding Presence. I went there to pray after the Greek final and in the solitude give thanks I was still alive. The name suits a place I find sustaining. As an aside, I love to sit in the empty church without all the lights alone with God and to envision the spirit not only of God's abiding presence, but as a history buff, to envision the saints who have gone before in this place, as an ode to the eternal and sustaining message of God's glory, and grace.
The stained glass windows are like none I have ever seen. They are actually not the usual leaded glass variety, but rather are an opaque window with engraved images of the historic figures of the Reformation, the Church and our fine seminary. I wish I had a good picture. In the Church of the Abiding Presence, the chapel of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, the stained glass windows depict scenes from the Bible and Church history. The window closest to the pulpit depicts the crucifixion of Jesus. Just below the foot of the cross, and a little to the right, the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, kneels in adoration and suffering. A little further down, and to Stephen's left, St. Francis is shown receiving in his own body the marks of the crucifixion. This window is symbolic of Lutheran recognition of St. Francis of Assisi as one who truly surrendered himself in humble submission to the shame of the cross.
Not only are we there to open the class year for our time here, we are part of an unending march of saints/sinners who, answering God's call have come here to this place and time. And while, after summer Greek I know much about some of my classmates that could fall into the TMI category, I was also glad to see people I can now begin to say I know, when I came back to campus after the brief hiatus following Greek. We are community here, in all the good and less than outstanding that any moment can encompass.
But we are also community in the larger sense within the holy catholic and apostolic church. And we are but a current manifestation of a ragtag band that goes back a really long time.
So as I watch the current and future leaders of the church amidst the backdrop of the past, and after a couple of weeks of conjuring up the core of what begins to give me new and different glimpses into belief, I cannot help but feel that the saints in the windows are a part of that great cloud of witnesses.
And during worship this week we were asked to take a moment and contemplate our family and friends who helped us and continue to help us be here; the pastors and other leaders who encouraged and taught, and all of those people throughout time who have influenced our thought and faith.
And there again was not only the memory of a beloved pastor now deceased, who I wish was here with me now, but that cloud of witnesses again, whose life and witness, successes and struggles, joys and sorrows in the faith have convened here with us now. Our motto here is " At the Crossroads of History and Hope." Not merely a trite expression as I contemplate where the Spirit may lead me during my time as a part of the community here.
And while I am terrified at the notion of preaching, wonder what I will mess up, I end this reflection with wisdom shared today by our Dean of a statement she learned in her internship, to pray that God bless what has been done for the good of God's kingdom, and forgiveness for the rest. She added that on any given day she is never really sure which may be which in God's eyes. I suspect the cloud of witnesses would concur.
Once again, I am reminded that I must surrender my notion of being in control, allow God to fill and mold me, as many have before me. And Lord, please forgive the rest, Amen.


Diane said...

blessings on your journey... our new education season is beginning too... stresses everywhere... remember the cloud of witnesses.
We have a church history professor who always says "church history is the exposition of holy scripture."

LawAndGospel said...

I like that idea. And history is at once a place for each of us, and some much larger than any of us.

Gannet Girl said...

I went looking for a photo of your chapel windows -- guess you'll have to post some. I hope your first days of classes are wonderful!

David said...

I'll post some pics of the windows at Christ Chapel here at LTSS as well. Like you, I love worshipping in the chapel. I don't know if it is the windows, the marble, or the organ...perhaps it's just a combination of all.

Glad you are off and running.

Pastor David said...

Ah, the Chapel of the Abiding Organ ;)

I too find a great deal of solace in those solitary moments in the church, and did in Sewanee, at Gettysburg, and now in the parish. The only place I didn't feel that sort of connection with the empty sanctuary was on my internship, which had a very cold, utilitarian sanctuary (they have since done a renovation). I still enjoy wandering over, late at night, just turning on a few lights, and spending time with the great cloud of witnesses - those from this place and those from other locations as well. It is a deep reassurance to know that (a) we are so supported by those who came before, and (b) no matter how bad we screw up, we are just a blink of the eye in the history of the church, and she will survive just as she always has.

RevDrKate said...

Came to your blog via Diane's. Liked your reflections on the communnity of those here and gone before and also the wisdom of your Dean. She is right...may we all remember now and again! Blessings on your year's beginning.

LawAndGospel said...

I will try to get some pics this week and post them. It will be my reward for the mountain of work to be done over the weekend since I spent yesterday in DC in a consortium event. The next post I think

LawAndGospel said...

I will try to get some pics this week and post them. It will be my reward for the mountain of work to be done over the weekend since I spent yesterday in DC in a consortium event. The next post I think

Pastor Eric said...

God's blessings to you as you begin classes. I remember being scared silly after my first week of classes; after having a chance to ponder all the papers I would have to write. Part of me wanted to pack up and run, but of course God had other plans.
The going WILL get tough at times but God would not have brought you there only to leave you. I look forward to reading more about your journey. Take care.