Easter Sunday, when Eddie Wiggin showed up, none of us knew he was coming. Eddie is the son of a parishioner who , until the time of his death, was a very active and beloved member of the congregation. Eddie was born with Down syndrome and when he first was born he was sheltered, hidden from the congregation, until a former priest of the church said, “Bring him to church.” He learned to serve at the altar, skills that I was impressed he had not forgotten.
Eddie was pressed into service. The banner that his parents gave to the church was taken down and he carried it in procession. But he could not see in front of him so he had to be guided into the church by Ed Hammond, an older man also with Down syndrome,. The moment was priceless. The two could not see and so the last of the procession inched forward while the front of the procession had already arrived at the sanctuary. Up the aisle walked the young crucifer and torch bearers in front of the full choir, while Eddie, Ed, the associate priest Jim Wilson, , and I trailed along behind Eddie to the singing of “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.”
It was a holy moment, one that I had not anticipated. I know there were some who were dismayed at the slow pace of our banner bearers. Certainly they had their points. I was terribly spontaneous sometimes and enlisting the inexperienced Ed into the procession was a stretch. And yet Eddie’s father had recently died in the hospital while I stood beside him with the doctor, an orthodox Jew, as we shut off the life support and we each held a hand while his heartbeat slipped away, his stepmother in the emergency room bed only twenty feet away.
So when Eddie showed up, there was a rightness to having their son carry the banner that was given by them to the church.
I may have been the only one who walked entranced by the sheer poignancy of the event. Probably was. And yet that day and so many times before and after Christ walked with us, slowly almost painfully coming with us up the aisle, walking with the two Eddies, two fragile ones with good souls, leading the clergy.
The music continued until the two banner carriers reached the front of the church, and we clergy found our places.
We could have gone home. It was enough, another homely incursion of Jesus through the locked doors of our hearts, breaking in to show us that what we do now is filled with the life of those who have gone before and those who will come after.
So there are times when we are the church and times we are akin to those frightened disciples behind bolted doors. And it is to that church also to which the risen Christ comes. The risen Christ comes to Eddie and Ed and says, “Peace be with you.” And tells them he is sending them out into the world to be his hands and feet, wounded and yet holy instruments of the living God. Then he breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit, bestowing on them the power to forgive sins.
Church is a gift from a God who refuses to leave us be. God comes to us. God’s presence makes the church. To the church who has nothing, Christ gives everything: Spirit, Mission, and Forgiveness.
Church isn’t my hard work, your earnest effort, our long range planning. Church is a gift, a visitation, an intrusion of the living Christ standing among us.
Rev. Robert Stuhlmann
Saint Pauls, Burlington