This week at Ash Wednesday worship just as Communion was beginning, I was instantly transported to a stand of tall ponderosa pines in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The camp naturalist, Bob, taught me that if you smell the bark of a pine tree it smells like vanilla. The entire Outlaw Ranch Bible Camp staff would bury our noses into the dark orange and gray bark of our camp pine trees to see if we agreed. He also taught us that we could eat the gray green moss hanging in clumps off those same trees. It was a handy snack and a sure way to intrigue normally skeptical middle school campers. The mysteries of the forest.
The year was 1978, the month was late May, and the counselors were gathered under those tall pines in a tight circle. We all wore heavy hiking boots, most with bright red shoe laces. Their weight crackling the dry pine needles beneath us. We listened closely to the instructions of our camp director and pastor kneeling in the center. We were having a worship service and it was time for Communion. The wine was in a heavy pottery goblet and the loaf of fresh bread from the camp kitchen was sitting on a brown paper sack.
He spoke these instructions, “I want all of you to say the Words of Institution with me.” (These are the words that all of us had heard for years in our home churches but were always spoken by a pastor.) Hesitantly, we started with a bit of prompting from this young pastor,
“Our Lord Jesus on the night in which he was …betrayed…. took bread . . .
and when he had given thanks . . . he broke it.”
The young pastor lifted the loaf of bread towards the sanctuary of pines and we all said,
“This is my body which is given for you. . .do this in remembrance of me.”
The young pastor lifted the goblet high and and the words flowed from us,
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Given and shed for you and for many. . . for the forgiveness of sin. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Pieces of crusty bread were torn, some bigger than others, and fragrant wine was sipped, all served with the words, “The body of Christ broken for you . . .the blood of Christ shed for you.” Sins were forgiven and we all remembered.
Back to Ash Wednesday last week (are you sticking with me here? sorry about the time travel!).
It’s been nearly forty years since that Communion service in the forest, but the words are still basically the same, recounting Jesus’ words to his disciples at the Last Supper. In fact, the young pastor is still the same. Pastor Loren Odland, who was breaking the bread and pouring the wine for that circle of camp counselors at Outlaw Ranch, has been my pastor at Gloria Dei for the past ten years. His energetic youthfulness, skilled teaching, genuine love for people, and proclamation of Christ have remained constant. God sends us pastors and I am thankful he sent my family and me Pastor Loren.
My Lenten journey began last Wednesday when Pastor Loren spoke the Words of Institution. While most will be looking ahead to the next forty days in their Lenten journey, I might spend mine looking back over forty years. Remembering. Remembering all the people that have come in and out of my life to preach the promises of a loving God to a sometimes distracted and occasionally skeptical listener. They are the tall pines that have surrounded me like a sanctuary while I may have just been staring at my shoes. They are kneeling at my feet serving me daily. They have delivered love and forgiveness. It’s a mystery to me how this all happens. I, sinner that I am, will continue to trust those words that are served up with the bread and wine, “for you.”
The words are for you, too. If it’s been awhile since you have heard those words, it’s never too late to join the table. In this mysterious forest of tall pines we call the church, you can never be too late for supper. Come, all are welcome.