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by Randy Lubbers
Salutation: a gesture or utterance made as a greeting or acknowledgment of another’s arrival or departure. Synonyms: greeting, salute, address, welcome.
We greeted them but no one returned our salutations.
His cheery salutations are a bit too much for a Monday morning.
I speak a “salutation” every week and I always use the same words: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. These are, for me, the “official” opening words of Sunday morning worship. They are words of greeting, welcome, acknowledgment of who we are in God. They come, in my local church, after a few preliminaries: a call/response reminding us that every Sunday is Easter Sunday—This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it—followed by announcements, joys and concerns, a short prayer of preparation, and the prelude and lighting of candles.
As the prelude—a time of centering ourselves in God—draws to a close, I move to the Table and extend my arms, and speak God’s welcome to myself and to all.
Grace to you and peace…
Call me an old traditionalist or even an elitist or a fuddy-duddy, but I have always felt that being greeted with “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” is way, way better than even the most perky “Good morning!”
Our church bulletin labels the salutation and call to worship, “God welcomes us home… and we respond.” Granted, it’s slightly cumbersome. But I’ve always thought the real call to worship is my 6:00 a.m. alarm, or perhaps the Spirit telling you to skip the west coast football game and go to bed at 10:30, or maybe that “still, small voice” telling you and your partner that maybe the third margarita is overkill. I’m being a bit contrarian and silly, but I feel like we maybe don’t need to be called to worship as much as welcomed and affirmed.
Sometimes I’m not so sure God welcomes me. Sometimes I doubt my very own touchstone, “I belong to God.” I’m guessing you might feel this way too—at least sometimes? I need to hear the Salutation because I need to feel reaffirmed in my belovedness. I need to hear the “welcome home” of my loving, compassionate, patient, waiting parent.
In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), many congregations are observing Domestic Violence Awareness today—perhaps your local church, too? Domestic Violence Awareness covers a lot of ground—allowing for sorrow and grief and lament for those who have died because of domestic violence; celebrating the lives of those who have survived; building awareness about how we can work to end violence—it’s too much for just a single Sunday morning. This morning my hope is that my congregation will become more aware of width and breadth of domestic violence—it’s not just physical violence against partners (primarily women), but it includes emotional, psychological, spiritual, and sexual violence. It can include financial coercion, threats, an unexpected slap across the face, or intimidation with a handgun—a wide arsenal of tactics exists. And domestic abuse is not limited to violence against spouses—there is violence against the elderly, violence in dating relationships, violence against children. Telling these sad stories during intergenerational worship is a challenge—to give space to the deeper, more difficult stories, someone from the Committee Against Domestic Abuse (CADA) will speaking to adult and teenage members prior to worship while the younger children are in Sunday school.
Thinking about “Safe Spaces”—our thematic for today—keeps pulling my heart back to the Salutation.
Thursday night: First there was thunder; then a thundershower; then the sun peaked through and up in the heavens I saw a beautiful and complete horizon-to-horizon rainbow. God’s sign saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you; I will never let you down and never let you go.” And the “you” here is both personal and plural and it includes all God’s creatures and all God’s children, including you and me.
Maybe I can talk with the younger children about their cats and dogs and hamsters—they all need safe places to call home, right? And what about squirrels and geese and deer? They all need safe spaces to call home. I wonder where that might be? Every creature, every person needs a safe space. Most of the kids in our churches have a safe space every night and get tucked in by loving parents. But not all… And some adults are longing for a safe space… they might be going through abuse we know nothing about…
O God, we pray for all victims of abuse. We ask you to surround them with your care and protect them by your loving might and permit them to enjoy health and healing, wholeness and strength, calmness and peace and love. May they feel your presence and be confident in you.
Guide the journeys of those longing to find Safe Spaces. Help those working through the legalities of obtaining an Order of Protection so that they might have the chance to begin a new life free from fear and pain.
O God, sometimes your Salutation cannot be heard as a “welcoming word” because the Church has so often failed to be supportive and compassionate and open to hearing the truth. Forgive our ignorance, our hesitancy to hear the hard and sad stories and—frankly—the truth. Forgive our striving for our own comfort and forgive our apathy. Through Christ, who loves us all—but especially those who are suffering—to the uttermost, amen!
About Randy Lubbers: Father of John, Elyse, and Luke; friend of locally owned coffee shops and breakfast cafes everywhere; proud Central College Dad; pastor and teacher at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Lake Crystal, Minnesota since ordination in 2004 (RCA); ministry interests include the theology and leadership of worship and the sacraments, social action and peacemaking, spirituality and prayer, ecumenism, and interfaith dialogue.
Two things I’m proud of: (1) People tell me I’ve been a great dad—my wife Carolyn died in 2009 after battling ovarian cancer when Luke and Elyse were 9 & 13. (2) Leading (with Mark Pries and Tom Trinidad) an ecumenical communion service after the passage of the Formula of Agreement linking the ELCA with the RCA, PCUSA, and UCC.
A short list of things which make my heart sing: playing catch with Luke, coffee, laughter, books, writing, baseball played on real grass, vegetarian lasagna, asparagus, chili on a cold day, scenic drives in October, friends, family, music, art museums, basketball, tennis, bicycling, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Guthrie Theater, long hikes in the woods, and looking into congregants’ eyes while speaking the Assurance of Pardon.