I’m headed to a gathering this weekend that is notoriously difficult to describe. It’s a conference—no, that’s not quite the right word—that is entering its sixth year, and explaining it to friends continues to stump even those who have attended every time. It’s the kind of gathering that you want to invite everyone to join, but your invitation sounds something like this: “You should come! It’s—I don’t know—just come!” My first year the weekend missed my expectations entirely, but was one of the best weekends of my life. I found things I didn’t even know I was looking for. Wouldn’t it be great if someone visiting our church could say that?
Soon after attending my second year, I re-encountered the song “Peace (A Communion Blessing)” by Rich Mullins and found that the lyrics came close to describing what the weekend was for me:
Though we’re strangers, still I love you
I love you more than your mask
And you know you have to trust this to be true
And I know that’s much to ask
But lay down your fears, come and join this feast
He has called us here, you and me
Mullins’ song is about a communion feast: something that happens in church. And yet many people go to church and never hear words like these: “I love you more than your mask,” “Don’t be afraid,” “Sit down; feast with us.”
It is one thing to hear words like this from a pulpit. I praise God that Church at Charlotte is a church that believes in community, that believes in struggling well together and serving one another. But if I only heard it from the pulpit, and never heard it from the person next to me in the pew, I might not believe it.
Then I ask myself, “When was the last time I told someone I loved them—the real person, warts and all—more than their mask? When was the last time I reached out to someone and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, I want you in community with me—we’re strangers, but I love you already.’” Those are words that are scary to speak honestly; they require opening myself up, reaching out beyond the walls I build.
The second verse of Rich Mullins’ song recognizes how hard it is to reach beyond ourselves—and that we cannot do it in our own strength. He sings,
And though I love you, still we’re strangers
Prisoners in these lonely hearts
And though our blindness separates us
Still His light shines in the dark
And His outstretched arms are still strong enough to reach
Behind these prison bars to set us free
We serve a God who makes peace rain down from heaven. He gave His body and blood that we might live. He loves us more than our masks. And He Himself is the Light that we are to shine to those around us, the Love we are to share.