A black and white photograph of my maternal grandparents hangs on the wall in my parents’ living room. In the picture my grandfather stands handsome in pin-stripes, a white corsage pinned to his lapel. In front of him, their shoulders barely touching, is my grandmother. Her floral hat is angled just so, her porcelain skin framed by a spray of ribbons and gladiola across the shoulder of her suit.
It’s their wedding portrait, but there’s no tuxedo, no white dress, no lace-trimmed veil. On the day they married, my maternal grandparents didn’t walk down a church aisle or stand before a congregation of friends and loved ones. Instead, they were married in the rectory adjacent to the church. My grandfather, born Baptist, was not permitted to marry my grandmother, a Roman Catholic, inside the church.
I used to sit in the blue chair in my parents’ living and stare at that wedding portrait of my grandparents. Truthfully, it made me sad. I mourned the fact that my grandmother hadn’t been allowed the kind of wedding most girls dream about. I mourned that my grandfather, one of the most faithful men I ever knew, had been barred from marrying the girl he loved in a proper church wedding.
For a long time I railed against what I perceived as the Catholic Church’s intolerance of other denominations. When, after many years of unbelief, I returned to faith and religion as a Protestant, I naively assumed my new religion was free of division and divisiveness. Turns out, I was so blinded by my new love for God; I couldn’t see that some Protestants drew their own lines, with Catholics, and others, on the other side. I was disappointed. It was a different “enemy,” but the same old dividing lines.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink,” Jesus told the crowd gathered in the Temple on the last day of the Feast of the Tabernacles. “Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (John 7:37-39)
Like Brad observed last week, Jesus chooses the most basic, elemental symbols to make his case: hunger and thirst; bread and water. Water comprises 70 percent of the Earth and about 57 percent of the human body. It is the most basic, but also the most fundamental component to our survival. We all thirst, every last one of us. Jesus chooses the symbol of water for this very reason – because he extends the invitation to everyone.
I love how Jesus always cuts straight to the chase. It’s simple, isn’t it? If you thirst, you are welcome. If you thirst, you’re in.
Yet it’s easy to forget this, isn’t it? It’s easy to forget that Jesus wasn’t about doctrine and creeds, rules and regulations. He simply opened the door and offered the invitation. To everyone.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t advocate that we all adopt a milk-toast, one-size-fits-all religion. I value and appreciate the differences unique to our denominations. I love how we all have a slightly different take on the body and the blood, the bread and wine, the sacraments and the rituals and the prayers and the creeds.
Maybe I’m naive, maybe I’m simplistic, but I believe we can celebrate these differences without deeming one or the other wrong. I believe we can find a way to embrace and appreciate doctrine without allowing it to trump Jesus.
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