Sharing a Dream
Last night I had this dream:
I was a younger pastor serving a smallish church. The congregation was meeting in something that looked like a lodge at a camp. Off the main room, where the congregation was gathered, were several smaller rooms. In one room were older kids, in another, closest to the main room, a combination nursery and pre-school room from which the predictable noises of babies and small children emanated.
At that point in the service, three people were to do some kind of reading. I was concerned that they couldn’t be heard, so I adjusted the sound system and tried to get the readers to hold the mic more closely. Then I closed the doors to the two kids rooms. When I closed the door to the nursery area there were some protests from within. Along the lines of “don’t cut us off,” “it’s too hot,” and the like. I re-opened the door.
After a while a little guy named Harris, probably age 3, comes out of the nursery/ pre-school room. He’s wearing a plaid flannel shirt, jeans and suspenders. Cute as the proverbial button. Harris walks over to me where I hover anxiously on the edge of the room and puts out his hands in the unmistakable gesture that says, “pick me up.”
So, I pick Harris up and hold him at my shoulder. After a while Harris looks at me and says, “Did you mess up?” referring to my errant door closure. I say, “Yeah, guess so.” Harris then leans in toward me and kisses me. Then he says, “Go,” which clearly meant you are free of that burden, forgiven, get on with your life. Then he lets me know he too is ready to go, to be down. I put him back on the floor. And he walks back to his room.
Oh, I forgot to add, it was Easter Sunday. A day that pastors, at least this one, tend to be more uptight than usual.
Now, in the light of day, this dream doesn’t seem all that big a deal, though it did at whatever point in the night it arrived. It is close enough to being sentimental that I’m even a little embarrassed to share it.
But it also seems like a gospel story of forgiveness, not just for closing the door but for the miscues to which our anxiety can all too often lead us, such as shutting other people out. Reinhold Niebuhr said that anxiety, inherent in the human condition, is not in itself a sin, but it is the “pre-condition of sin.” You can get so anxious, you hurt yourself or others.
“Did you mess up?” “Yeah.” A kiss and “Go,” meaning, “You’re forgiven, let it go, get on with life as a forgiven and forgiving person.”
So, the “words of assurance,” as we call them in the liturgy, were delivered by a three-year-old. Many of my failures in this life have been a heck of a lot bigger deal than closing the door to the kids room or being overly anxious about everything being “right,” but the point remains. We need grace. I need grace. We need to be freed from the burden of our failures and set free to “go” and live.
In worship services the words of assurance following the prayer of confession, are the most momentous words spoken. But they often go by without much notice. Pay attention. If you are the one saying them, speak with bold conviction. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I declare to you, all your sins are forgiven. The past is over and done. Let it go. Live in the freedom of this new day. In Christ Jesus our Lord, you are a new creation. Amen.”