At one of our Wednesday Lenten worship services, I was moved to see three generations of a family assisting in serving communion. This isn’t an odd thing at St. Peter, since a number of families assist in worship together. But usually, on a Sunday morning, there are other people up front as well since we usually commune using two stations; this evening there was only one station.
Perhaps because there were only the three of them standing up near the altar table with the pastor, they drew more of my attention than usual. There was a grandfather, his adult daughter and her high school aged daughter. They were serving and being served together.
In my office, I have a framed picture of a road curving through an autumn forest. The colors of the leaves still on the trees, and the leaves that have fallen and blur the edges of the road, are intense. They contrast sharply with the black of the tree trunks and the splashes of green that are shrubs still holding their summer colors. It is visually a very stunning picture to look at.
But what I like most about it, the reason I have it in a frame in my office, is not the brilliant color contrasts. The best part of the picture, for me, is the quote from Ram Dass overlaid on the fall scene.
The words say simply, “We’re all just walking each other home.”
I love that quote because it implies that we are all in this thing together- this journey of life. It implies we have both privilege and responsibility for each other. Part of our own journey is inescapably wrapped up in helping someone else.
I thought of this quote as I watched the family members helping our pastor serve communion. As parents and grandparents, most of us are very concerned about passing on the Christian faith to those who come after us. We may bring or send our children to Sunday School and confirmation instruction. We encourage them to be part of Youth activities. We sit with them in worship. And all of those things are very important. They are part of the process of transmitting the faith.
But by themselves, all of these worthy activities are a bit like handing someone a map and sending them off down an unknown road, with the advice to ask questions of people they meet along the way. This can work- God speaks to us and draws us near in all kinds of ways.
But what I saw in worship that night was something different, something that was more consistent with walking a road together. The faith that was being formed belonged to all three generations, not just the youngest person standing there. We tend to think in terms of the older passing on the faith to the younger, and sometimes that is true. But I think it is just as often true that the faith of our children and grandchildren, the young people in church with and around us, shape our more “adult” faith. Just ask Sunday School teachers about the moments when their students have astonished them with profound spiritual wisdom or questions that linger past the classroom. We are in this together.
I have to add a word of caution here: There are no guarantees. Since our family members are humans with their own free will just as we are, they may decide to go in other directions in their spiritual journey. We have no control over that, and that is as it should be. But if we have begun the journey walking with them, we may hope to meet up with them further down the way, even if our paths have diverged for a while. And we can continue to walk with each other in love, and continue to form and be formed by the journey together. We can continue to walk each other home, and by God’s Grace, we will arrive home together.