I find it unsettling being taken by the hand, held at the elbow and stared in the eye as a stranger whispers ‘welcome home’ – but maybe that’s just me. This was one of my first experiences of my committee at college, which involves hanging out at Newtown Mission church for the Thursday night drop-in dinner. It was sensory overload for the first few weeks – from the beautiful and frightening depictions on the famous ‘revelation ceiling’ to the bustle of kitchen service, as hundreds of people clamour to be fed. It has felt like many things over the past six months, but least of all home.
Confronted is probably the best word to describe how I felt each week. With the messiness of life, the brokenness of people, my own sin and hardness of heart. Aching conversations with hardly a hint of hope, chapel services unlike in every way anything I am used to and staff who have seen umpteen numbers of wide-eyed volunteers dish up mashed potato one week and never return. Everything had to be earned – smiles, hellos, trust from workers and clients alike.
Tonight was different. Tonight our little Moore college band of brothers tied on aprons after a few weeks away. And it felt like hearing the familiar notes of the old song you used to sing when you were happy. We greeted friends with cheery hello’s and cut out bread circles for communion as apple-mango juice was poured into tiny cups. I stood on the street and listened and smiled as people filed in from every corner, their disparate lines converging on a little church that lets them be.
As chapel began and we sang ‘Oh Happy Day’ I realised that my heart was full. I didn’t feel self-conscious there any more, or out of place. I felt like this was my place now, too. As the bread and juice were uncovered and the words uttered weren’t rote or even technically enough, I thought about Jesus and what he would do here, in the midst of all of these people who he made and loves. And I thought first that he would be here – this is a place he would have hung out. He came for each one sitting or standing or lustily singing or calling out when it was time for silence. And then I realised that it wasn’t about what Jesus would do if he were here now, but the fact that this little meal of bread circles and yellow juice reminds us of what he did, way back when, which infuses every part of this night with hope.
There is no pretending here that life is always or even mostly beautiful. But there is great and abundant hope that Jesus came to fix what we have broken. Grace is understood, because grace is the only thing possible – if there is a way to know Jesus it will have to be given to those here not offered by them, because their hands are empty. My hands are empty too, but sometimes I forget that.
I went forward for communion and braced myself for the same man as the first night to hold my arm and utter intense things about God that made me feel awkward. Instead he called me sister and said that Jesus blood was shed on the cross for the forgiveness of my sin. And I want to cry a little because I’m so thankful.
After chapel we race to the kitchen and the food rush begins. In the beginning this was the tense part – yelling and rushing and trying not to be slow or spill. Tonight I spooned gravy onto the chefs’ arm and a group of us sang Les Mis as we dried up – voices I never could have predicted chiming in as the music in our heads soared. Even in that moment I marvelled that so much has turned around in a few short months, so much has been given. And no one needed to shake my hand tonight to tell me that I was home.