"Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep..."
This reading, read every year on Ash Wednesday, took on particular significance as I heard it read today by one of the lay readers. This is my first year leading an Ash Wednesday service as a mother, just 2 weeks into my new call as Pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Literally about 10 minutes before the service I called to check in with my husband, whose phone call I had missed. I left him at home this morning with our toddler who had a fever and wasn't feeling well. The poor boy wanted only for me to hold him this morning, as I was running around trying to get ready, feed his baby brother, and cuddle with him while trying to keep the baby away from his germs. Andy told me that the diagnosis was flu. Flu? But he got the flu shot! That was supposed to protect him!
My meeting with the worship team had run right up to the service time, and both the sanctuary and the commons had to be set up for the meal. My baby who had been sleeping peacefully for most of the meeting was starting to stir, and most certainly hungry. I had no time. I obviously couldn't assist with giving medicine to the toddler, who refuses to take it. I didn't have time to nurse the baby, which would have made both of us more comfortable. And I didn't have time to prepare myself to lead this first worship service of the Lenten season.
It turned out to be one of those services that was a true gift to the pastor leading it. We had space for silence. Simple Taize songs that I could sing from heart. Other members of the worship team to lead readings. Simplicity all around. The service was a gift. The chair of the search committee that brought me into this wonderful call, herself a grandmother separated by too many miles from her own grandchildren, had held my son through the meeting, and continued to hold him through the worship service. He was awake, a bottle nearby, but happy to be held and loved.
In the passage from Joel, a solemn assembly is called together and ALL members of the community are summoned - even the children and infants at the breast. This week I've been experimenting with burning palms branches to ready the ashes for today. It's been messy. I've got a sick toddler at home, and a breastfed infant who is expert at both input and output. I'm always exhausted, and feeling like I'm falling short in everything, but I suppose that is par for the pastor mama course.
This passage from Joel reminded me that we are all called into the worshipping community, in all of the messiness and business of life. Nursing infants. Those who have been around the block a few times. Noisy kids. We need each other. God knows it. And Lord knows I'm learning.