Where His people gather, He is.
On the road to Emmaus, men walked alongside Jesus without recognizing him, their hearts “burning within” them as He spoke, yet did not know Him until he broke bread and fed them. Worship and wonder does still take place in unlikely places alongside country roads.
Our farm is along such a road amidst rolling hills of evergreens and fields, next to a crossroads where 100 years ago sat the village of Forest Grove. This small settlement boasted a one room school house, a general store, a saw mill and a small Methodist church. Families would travel by horse and buggy to attend Sunday morning services, and during good weather, would picnic together on our farm’s nearby hill top to enjoy the expansive view. And every Easter, the small congregation would gather on the hill for a service at sunrise.
When the sawmill closed 80 years ago, the village shut its doors as well. The buildings were dismantled; the beams and timbers were transformed into our large hay barn and the humble little church became our farm’s chicken coop, long and narrow with smooth fragrant cedar lined walls and rough fir floors. Hens lay their eggs to the echoes of sacred hymns still resonating in those walls and floor.
Formal worship moved to nearby towns, yet the Easter Sunrise Service tradition remains alive on our farm. Cherished by local families and neighborhood folk, some of whom have attended since they were children, this service is never canceled for any reason–not rain, not northeasters, not even the occasional Easter snow shower. If it is too stormy to be outside on the hill, the service takes place in the big red hay barn. In either setting, a tiered row of rough stickery hay bales, theater style, creates a semicircle of seats ready and waiting for the intrepid faithful who come annually to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, huddled together for warmth under blankets.
Each year a different Resurrection theme is explored through Bible readings and hymn singing. One year, it was noted how God has walked with His people since the beginning of time. First, in the Garden, He is “walking… in the cool of the day” looking for Adam and Eve, but after the Resurrection, Jesus walked with the men to Emmaus. Because of Jesus, we go from hiding from God as He walks in the garden, ashamed of the forbidden meal we have eaten, to Emmaus where we walk alongside Him, invited to join Him as He shares with us the Bread of Life.
We are called to worship Him: from knowing dread to being fed.
Hay bale pews don’t create the most comfortable seating for worship. They poke us where we are most tender. Yet it is good to be reminded from where true comfort arises. Even when in shame we hide from Him, even when we do not recognize Him as He walks alongside us, our hearts burn for Him.
And He feeds us wherever we gather.