We had a wonderful service and adult forum this Sunday. During the service we continued to play ‘Johnny one note’ and talk about the simplicity of the Jesus Way. We talked about how we sometimes put up barriers—personally, collectively, as a church that complicate the way and leave some people out. And how Jesus, as he did for Nicodemus, calls us to be ‘born again’ and be different. Pull down barriers he said, open our hearts to experience God’s love. All are “in” our friend Jesus said.
After the service Anna and I drove up to Baltimore to the Walters Museum to see the St. Francis Missal. This 12th century book, used by priests to say the mass, is understood to be the actual book St. Francis of Assisi used to determine his future. It is called a ‘touch relic’ because the saint touched it.
As the story goes Francis and some of his friends went into the church of San Nicolo and asked the priest to help them determine their future. “What do we need to do to follow Christ, ” they supposedly said. They decided to open the book three times at random and see what Christ was calling them to. The story goes that these three passages were randomly chosen:
-if you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, give the money to the poor and come follow me;
-if you want to become my follower, deny yourself and come follow me
-take nothing for your journey, not a bag, not a staff, not two coats
Francis had his path. Jesus simply and clearly told him, to follow me you must give up everything and live simply and serve others.
As we have spoken/preached/learned together, sometimes Jesus’ teaching is hard to follow and sometimes it also is to be taken seriously and not literally. Surely these three scripture references provide guidance for us–stuff doesn’t matter, follow Jesus, serve others-which provides a framework for our faith, our Christianity. But to do what St. Francis did? Very few can do it. Christians are different. Christians are asked to reject what the world thinks matter. Christians are love, plain and simple. And we don’t have to give up everything to be good Christians.
How does seeing a relic from St. Francis help with that faith? For Anna and me, as we spoke in the car on the way to the Franciscan monastery in Maryland to walk its beautiful walking trails and put a cap on our ‘Franciscan pilgrimage,’ the physical nature of the relic, as a ‘touch relic’ didn’t provide anything overly dramatic, but it did offer us a glimpse at an object that a true follower of Jesus had used. It has been said (I think it was Chesterton in his biography of Francis) that the world has only seen one true Christian, Francis, because he followed Jesus’ teaching literally. And seeing such objects reinforces that we are not alone in trying to figure out how to follow Him. The world has been trying to figure out how to do that for centuries and some, perhaps, have been better at it than others. But it is in the effort that Jesus sees us trying, as best we can, to serve the poor, give little importance to things and to following Him.
I think he finds that enough.
Peace and all good (Francis’ way of signing off and blessing people),
The Missal is at the Walters Museum of Art until May 31st. The museum is free and information can be found at www.thewalters.org