When I lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, I attended a large downtown Episcopal Cathedral and I sang in the choir. It was a wonderful group of singers who offered fine liturgical singing, anthems, and major choral works. It was one of the most skilled choirs with which I have ever sung.
Because it was a cathedral, the choir wore very formal robes. First, there was a purple linen robe called a cassock. Over that was a surplice, a loose white blouse that came down to the knees and had broad sleeves. Finally, there was a silver chain worn around the neck with a cross at the end. We wore this robe, surplice, and cross necklace year-round.
We also had several priests who officiated every service and we would often have visiting priests along with our regular officiants. During one mass I counted eleven priests around the altar! All of the priests wore opulent robes and beautiful stoles during worship.
We were a large congregation with many members who were middle or upper-middle-class and not a few who could be called wealthy. Because we were a downtown church, we also had some people who lived on the streets of Cincinnati who came to church. These homeless people would attend services, sometimes sleeping during worship, and then have coffee and finger food with other congregants in what was called the undercroft or the basement of the church.
Every Sunday, the choir processed into the sanctuary as we sang the first hymn leading the altar boys and girls and the priests. In the back pews of the sanctuary, as we passed by singing, I would see the homeless men and women with their possessions around them, some sleeping. As we approached the front of the sanctuary, we would pass the more affluent members, dressed in beautiful clothes. I was struck by this contrast several times as I entered to worship.
One particular Sunday, as the choir and entourage were approaching the back doors that lead to the sanctuary, the front door suddenly opened and a homeless man entered the narthex. He was there to attend church with his belongings in a black plastic bag he carried in one hand over his shoulder. The choir had already begun singing the processional hymn in full voice as the organ accompaniment swelled to meet our entrance. The man looked at us in surprise, and then with a sly smile, he raised a hand in the style of a drum major and began leading us as we processed into the sanctuary. This was a startling picture of contrast. The man with his bag and dirty black knit cap, and the choir, altar attendants, and priests in opulent robes processing into the church.
At the time I remember wondering if Christ were present today, with whom would he process?
I thought at the time he would surely be the with the homeless man leading our overdressed group of singers and priests. As I reflect on this today, I believe that that is not the whole story. I am sure that Christ would be with the homeless leader of the band. But I believe he would also walk with the choir, and with the altar servers and the priests who followed. He would be with the poor and rich among us and all those in-between. I believe he would challenge us to follow the great commandment to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds and souls and our neighbors as ourselves.
Who are our neighbors? Our neighbors are rich and poor; citizen and immigrant; Latinx, black and white; gay, transgender, and straight; liberal, moderate, and conservative.
This reminds me of a scripture from Galatians 3:27
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer
male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Christ is calling us to a radical, audacious, and extravagant love for the world. It’s a confused, broken, and hurting world that is crying out for love and healing. God is calling us to get to the front and lead and love this parade. When we do, we will find Christ walking with us.