This past Sunday, Bishop Mathes made his annual visitation to Saint John’s. I’ve seen two ways Bishops do such Sunday visitations – one is to dress things up and make things grand; the Bishop shows up in full Episcopal regalia. The other is for the Bishop to join in on a normal Sunday, wear the vestments of the local church, and simply be a part of the congregation. Our Bishop chooses the second option – he simply joins in with a normal Sunday worship. This is not to say anything bad about the other approach; it is just different and the pomp and circumstance have their role in the Church, too. Despite the blending-in our Bishop does, I have a funny story to share with you.
At the close of our 10 a.m. service, Bishop Mathes was in the Narthex greeting Saint John’s parishioners. He was wearing the green vestments that you’ve seen me wear a lot (and again this Sunday, and the next, and the next…) The only thing that made him stand out as different was the Bishop’s staff he held in his left hand. One of our children saw him, tugged on her mom’s dress, and said, “Mommy, is that God?” The mom told me this story shortly after it happened. I smiled, knelt down, looked at the darling child, and said, “No honey, he’s one of us.”
This Bishop, each bishop, is one of us – human and redeemed by God. Yet, they are apart from us as they hold a sacred and ancient position of taking the place of Saint Peter in our midst – Peter, the one who Jesus laid his hands on his head and said, “On you I will build my Church.” Our Bishop is the next in line, if you will, in a long apostolic line back to Peter and Jesus. That makes him different. So, he’s different, and one of us, all at the same time.
The question, “Is that God,” and my response, “No, he’s one of us,” got me to thinking. What did the child see that was different from what I see. I wonder if the truth ruined the experience for her. After all, what if she saw the apostolic ladder that leads back to Jesus’ outstretched hands.
John the Baptizer saw Jesus walking along the bank of the Jordan River the day after he had baptized Jesus. Upon seeing Him, John loudly declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God! … I myself have seen and I testify to you that this is the Son of God.” (Jn 1:29,34)
What strikes me about this scene is the way our eyes see and perceive. The people who gathered at the river; either to wash their clothes, or to receive a baptism by John, or to simply see what all the fuss was about; saw an ordinary human walking along the muddy river bank. What they heard from John was something far from ordinary – here is God in (ordinary) human flesh. It must have been shocking to hear that revelation. To the eyes of the spectators, it was a man, born of a woman, raised in Nazareth, and now walking along the river like everyone else; but their ears heard that it was God incarnate.
Our young parishioner taught me a good lesson – to listen and perceive the Spirit of God around me. Perhaps if I look and listen like a child, I too will ask, “Is that God?” After all, I have to become more like a child to experience the Kingdom of Heaven.