It could be any session table in any Presbyterian church at any time of the year. But it is Advent, and the session table at which I sit with Presbyterian sisters and brothers is an Advent session table. And this Advent session table, a table that should be infused with the spirit of preparation, of watchfulness, of becoming is merely like all the other session tables around which I have sat. Scanning the table, I see the impassive faces and hear the recitations, the items of business, the lists of Grievances against one another this night, this night like all the other nights, these Grievances like those at all the other tables.
I know that these Grievances matter, that they are felt deeply, that they produce real human consequences. So, while a portion of my heart and mind treads the worn path of business and the scrabbled road of grievance and wound with those around me, seeking for human-born healing to human-born hurt, my soul lifts a prayer for the deep infusion of the numinous in this room and in every place across the Earth. How has it come to pass, I wonder to myself, that we have allowed the grievances, the business in these rooms to grow so large that there is space left only for a very small God?
Outside these rooms, murderers kill rooms full of other humans with 12-second bursts from automatic weapons, dangerous demagogues enflame rooms full of fearful followers with bursts of hate-filled, thoughtless rhetoric, and refugees crowd into rooms for sanctuary amid bursts of cries for help. I know that these rooms matter as well, that what happens in them matters quite deeply and produces unthinkable human consequences. How has it come to pass, again I wonder, that we have witnessed these rooms, yet lose voice to raise our grievances about violence, hatred, injustice and want?
From his own context within a fearful Fascist culture that sought to exclude and exterminate the Other, Dietrich Bonhoeffer affirms our Christian calling to enter all of these rooms, proclaiming the Gospel truth of the Christ for whom we watch and wait this Advent season, even at the cost of our livelihoods or our lives. Grace, Bonhoeffer reminds us, does not come cheaply. As he affirms for our own time,
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting to-day for costly grace. . . . Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception” of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. . . . Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. . . .Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.
In this Advent time, may each of us lift prayers for the deep infusion of the numinous in all of these rooms and in every place across the Earth, and may we find courage and voice to do what the Lord for whom we wait requires of us—to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.
Grace and Peace–Rebecca