I’m posting this on Maundy Thursday – the Thursday between Palm Sunday, when Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem, and Good Friday, when He was killed there.  This is the day when that Last Supper you’ve seen in pictures happened, and later that evening, when Peter, one of Jesus’ strongest supporters and disciples, denied even knowing him – .  Tomorrow, those who celebrate Easter will remember Good Friday, and the crucifixion.  Thursday and Friday are the lowest points of the Christian calendar – but it is Sunday – Easter – when we are shown that Grace can abound, that there is hope. It is through the remembrance of that Last Supper Jesus had with His disciples, what we now call Holy Communion, that through confession and repentance, we find forgiveness, even for those who feel there is no hope, or forgiveness.

The following story, for anyone watching as it happened, took about as long as it takes to sing the verses below – but inside me – I was transported through thousands of miles, and hundreds of years – to places where time, and distance, were absolutely irrelevant.

With that, please, as you may ponder the significance of Easter, I submit:

“Amazing Grace.”

It was Sunday, in a large, old church, in a big city.  The pastor had called for Holy Communion, and as he got out the bread and the – in this case – wine, the notes gently flowed while the organist cleared the pipes to play.  But these weren’t just notes that had come from the organ to our ears, nor were they words that were just now coming from our lips. They had come a great distance, through many years, having been written by a man named John Newton, who was exactly what he said he was in the second line of the song, a wretch.

But the story in the song is one of redemption, of John Newton coming to an understanding that this concept of Grace – in which we are given something we do not deserve.  And the words, written by him in 1779 in England, composed with notes by  William Walker in South Carolina in 1835, came together in this church, on this morning.

The organ sang the first notes out, and old bones and pews creaked equally as people stood, each heading to the aisle to walk to the front to receive Holy Communion, their chance to remember in the symbol of the Bread and the Cup the forgiveness that was theirs because of what Christ had done for them.  Worn shoes shuffled forward on an equally worn carpet as they sang, not with gusto, but with the tired reverence that comes with age.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

I was one of those shuffling, and heard the voices singing – some gray with years, some with the color of youth, many of them older, first generation Americans, for whom English had clearly been a a second language.

And suddenly, even though I was still shuffling – I felt I wasn’t in this church in this big city anymore.

I was transported to a land of tile roofs and cobblestone streets

A cool mist touches my face as I find myself stepping carefully on a foggy sidewalk.

As I walk, I’m overcome by the wonderful smell of simmering corned beef wafting out of a kitchen window.  I follow the sound of singing around a corner to a church, where the voices and harmonies show a faith and fellowship that has lasted through the ages.

An odd tinkling sound reveals itself to be from a young man, sitting on the sidewalk with a tin cup, begging.  All questions are answered by the scar across his face.  The tinkling comes from the people walking by toward the church, as they put some of their Sunday offering directly where it’s needed.

He smiles and blesses them as they go on.

We shuffled forward a bit:

 T’was grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

I’m confused, for a moment – as I find myself suddenly transported to what is clearly a prison, to a cold, damp cell, with only one small, high window.  A church bell rings in the distance, and the prisoner in the cell has experienced something not all prisoners do.  He’s finally not only understood the significance of the mistake that brought him here, but has experienced a remorse that can only be answered by forgiveness.  This does not mean that there are no consequences to his mistake, but there is forgiveness.  His quiet prayer is as sincere as that from any pulpit, and the light and warmth coming into that dark cell at that moment isn’t just from the sun.

We shuffled on, and started to sing the next verse…

Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

A steam whistle blows.  A locomotive hisses by, slowing for the station, and a young soldier nervously holds onto the open window as his now gray eyes search for the home he left two years ago.  In those eyes are the exhaustion of a thousand battles he’d wanted nothing to do with, and both the longing, and creeping doubt of seeing his family again.

He looks at his battered watch, the strap long gone, and knows that at this time, the Sunday pork roasts will be cooking, wafting their delicious smells out into the street.  It’s always been the first smell he smelled after getting out of the train station.  It’s a symbol of home, and this time, the war over, he should be home for good. 

The train clatters and bumps to a stop.  He gets up, and like all travelers, reaches for his bags and automatically walks toward the nearest exit, his uniform helping to part the respectful crowd of people so he can get through easier.  As he steps to the platform, he stops in the middle of the river of people pouring out behind and around him, and stands on his toes, looking around to get his bearings – so much had been destroyed in the war – and to see if anyone is there to meet him.  He is tackled from one side by his younger brother and sister, with the excitement only younger siblings can have for an older one.  The little brother, as little brothers do, wants to hear all about the battles.  The little sister stands quietly until he kneels to her level.  She hands him a small, soft object in a cloth napkin. It’s a slice of pork roast. THE pork roast. “Mama sagt, dass Du Heim kommen sollst, dass wir alle zusammen mit dir Mittags essen können.”  He shares the slice with both of them, and as his little brother picks up the bags, he picks up his little sister, and they all run across the street to the still standing house, to the kitchen, to his family.

There is no shortage of hugs, no shortage of tears.

He is home.

The melody continued, and we shuffled another step…

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Again, I am transported – to a sidewalk near a church.  As I stand there, looking left and right, a stooped old woman walks closer, uncomfortably using a new cane to support her.  She passes me by, sobbing softly.  The gold ring on her gnarled left hand tells the story.  It is her first Sunday coming to church alone in nearly half a century, her husband who had sat beside her every Sunday for that many years, who stood at that altar in the radiance of youth and repeated the vows with her – ending with “…until death do us part…” had loved her – for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health – and he had fulfilled those vows to the very last one.  He would never accompany her to church again, but church is where she needed to be on Sunday mornings, and church was where she would go.  Someone who is obviously her daughter runs up to her and supports her, saying gently, “Oh maman, je suis sincèrement désolée. Je suis venue dès que j’ai su.” 

The rest of the words are lost, as I hear the sound of voices singing, and feel myself being pulled away again.

We shuffled forward again…

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Again, I find myself near a church, with the bell ringing quietly, but closely.  Only this time I’m in what’s known in some countries as the ‘churchyard’ – and the group of people, all dressed in heavy coats of dark colors to ward off the cold, have come to pay their last respects to one of their own.  It is clear – even without understanding the language, that she was held in high regard by everyone there.  It seemed, given the expressions of some, that they were now both relieved at the end of the suffering she had endured, and confused as to who would take her place, but one thing was certain, she had enriched their lives by her simple existence.  She had enriched their lives by supporting them when they thought they were supporting her. And those looks on their faces told me her transition from this life to the next had been one of peace, of joy, and eventually of rest.

We shuffled forward one last step.

I was getting close to the front of the line now – and as we sang….

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

I found myself in a large, old church, in a big city.

It was my turn for communion, and as I took the bread, and drank from the cup, that first verse came back to me…

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.