It has been a long time since I was the rector of anything. I find that I am like a race horse who's been away from the track for a while: I have all the same equipment, but does it all still work? Am I the same person who last did this, in another place, at another time in the history of the world and in my own history? No, of course I am not. Nothing is ever the same as it was.
But how will it be different? I will be wiser, for one thing: I will not begin anything I cannot finish, or at least see towards it completion, in the short time I am here. I will not exhaust myself needlessly. I will not expect to move mountains.
Some things will be just the same, of course. The important ones endure. Prayer will be here, soaking into these walls as it has these hundred years. The Holy Eucharist will be here, transforming the very table upon which bread and wine sit -- from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to a messroom table on a dirty merchant vessel, where you had to move the tabasco sauce and salt shakers out of the way in order to lay out the chalice and the paten, I have never seen an altar that did not glow when the homely elements of bread and wine became Body and Blood upon it. And I have never seen the people who receive them not glow, either.
Last night, we walked to the duomo and along the river. Crossing the city, we came upon a carousel -- a very Italian one, its horses were startlingly adorned with sensuous feather crowns, its lights brighter than expected, its seats curvy, surreal. Little Fabbio was put safely into a seat by his father, who stood back and looked on, smiling. But as soon as the music began and the horses began to move up and down, he got up, swaying back and forth as he walked to find the horse of his delight and mount it as it moved. We watched him a little nervously -- "Fabbio!" his father said, a warning. I watched the children go around and around, Fabbio and just a few others, not enough custom to make any real money for the operator. The inky Italian night sky leaned down toward us all. It was garish, a trifle Fellini-esque, somewhat disquieting. Its glow was bright and dangerous.
That is not the glow of which I speak. Perhaps no one else sees the one I mean? Maybe just the one who meets the dear faces as people come forward, who places the bread in the outstetched hands, perhaps the one who looks back at those who look at these things, sees how all is transformed? No, that's not so: I have seen it from the back of the church. I think I saw it when I was a child, heard the words of institution like music -- Take, eat. This is my body. Not like other speech. Like a chant.
God is present, even if the people with whom God works are lacking in much of what is needed. We're all lacking in a fair amount. The Light of the world lights the world , no matter who's in charge day-to-day, no matter what garish light competes with it. I will not make much difference here at St. James -- it's only a year, after all. But I will make all the difference in today.
And what is a year, but a collection of days?