It was a dark night in the late spring in northern Wisconsin. I bounced along in the passenger seat as we wove our way over rough roads and around the lakes that spill across the landscape. Arriving at our destination, a small boat launch on the water, we found a group of scientists, biologists, already waiting for us, canoes ready to go.
I had worked for Loon Watch for several years at this point, a conservation non-profit based out of my college that tracked the status of Common Loons in the state. Most of the time my work involved transcribing the carefully written notes from our citizen scientists who tracked the nesting and breeding status of the loons all over the state. Occasionally I led public education programs, teaching elementary students about loon biology and conservation.
But this was the first time I had the opportunity to be a part of field work. The director had invited me along for the experience and now she introduced me to her colleagues, circled around on the dark lake shore. There was a nesting pair of loons on the lake and they wanted to check on the health of the chick and band it for future tracking.
Once in the boats, it didn’t take long to locate the loons in our flashlight beams. The scientists netted them in short order, recording the bands on the very angry adults before setting to work measuring the chick. Now, chick is almost a misnomer. It was in its awkward teenage phase, a bit larger than a football, still covered with fluffy gray down, but with giant legs and feet sprouting out of the end of its body. After weighing the chick, drawing some blood, and carefully wrapping identifying bands on its leg, they turned and handed the loon chick to me.
I was in awe. I had spent so much time so much time studying loons, so much time reading others careful notes about loons, so much time teaching about loons, so much time watching loons from a distance. Now it was in my hands. I could feel its weight, I could feel the softness of its feathers in my fingers, I could see its eyes considering me as I watched it in return. The director pulled out her camera and took a quick photo of me with the loon in my arms. I still have it somewhere.
Something shifted in me that night. I had always cared about loons, always been interested in them. It was why I had applied for the job. But you just don’t get it until you are holding a loon in your hands with a big, stupid grin on your face.
Something had shifted for John the Baptist that day when he had baptized Jesus in the Jordan. He had been proclaiming the coming of the messiah for a long time, but then to meet the anointed one face to face, to see the heavens opening, to witness the Spirit of God descending. He understood now.
A few days later, as John stood with a group of his followers, he saw Jesus again, approaching in the distance. He gesticulated excitedly to his followers to look. This was Jesus! This was the one he had been telling them about! This was the one for whom the heavens had opened when John baptized him in the Jordan!
Two of John’s disciples were curious. After all, they had been listening to John preach about the messiah for a long time now. And they had listened to John babble on about the miraculous events at the Jordan for the past couple of days. They wondered if this Jesus person might actually be the one they for whom they had been waiting. They wandered after Jesus to find out. They were curious.
After a while, Jesus turned to the two followers and asked what it was they wanted. The two wanted to know where he was staying. “Come and see,” Jesus replied.
So they did.
After spending the entire day with Jesus, one of the two followers, Andrew, went running to find his brother, Peter. Dragging Peter with him, Andrew proclaimed to his brother, “We have found the Messiah!”
Scripture does not record whether they had big, stupid grins on their faces as they ran to find Jesus.
Part of the work of discipleship is to grow in our faith and grow in our knowledge of God. We do this through prayer and through worship, yes, and we do it through the study of scripture and the study of theology and the writings of the faithful who have come before us. This is good. This is important. This is necessary.
And it will only get us so far. Preparation can only get us so far. Nor should this surprise us. After all, reading love stories cannot help you understand the electric energy that burns through your body when you fall in love. And no amount of the study of the death and grieving process can prepare you for the stillness of the room after the last breath is drawn.
How much more so with God, whose very nature defies explanation! Our God, who speaks to us in the sound of sheer silence, cannot be encapsulated in word and treatise. The full mystery of the Word, by which creation was spoken into being, who would become like us—creatures who speak so much, listen less, and understand little—defies our ability to communicate by way of reason and logic.
The path of understanding is through experience. The way of knowledge of our God is through the divine invitation, ringing out from creation’s beginning until its completion at the end of all things, “Come and see.”
Some number of years ago I sat down to meet with the parents of an early elementary school aged child. They had been reluctant to have him begin receiving communion during church because they didn’t think he understood what was happening in the sacrament yet. I listened to their concerns and agreed to offer him some instruction to prepare him for the Eucharist. But, I cautioned, he wouldn’t begin to truly understand until he was able to participate.
Indeed, none of us completely understand the mystery of the Eucharist, but we grow in our understanding throughout our lives by reaching out to taste the bread and the wine. We grow in our understanding by responding, time and again, to the invitation to come and see.
This is why we practice open communion at St. Faith’s, offering the bread and the wine to anyone and everyone who seeks it. So often the debate about practicing open communion versus reserving it only for the baptized becomes a debate about hospitality and about tradition. But that misses the point. Open communion is not a matter of hospitality, but a path of understanding and faith.
At this altar, all who seek will receive. From the youngest child, reaching out and grasping for bread the very first time, perhaps mimicking the adults around it or perhaps responding to some primal movement of the Spirit, to the elder held steady by family or friends so that they might guide the chalice to their lips, and everyone in between. Because God longs to be found, and God hungers for us to know God’s own self. And Jesus beckons us, time and time again to come and see so that at last, filled with understanding, we can run from this place and proclaim that we have found the Messiah.
Preached by the Rev. Adam Yates