A Parable of the Lenten Journey

An ancient proverb is told of a servant whose duty was to draw water from the river at dawn when it was still mostly dark, and carry a bucket-full up a winding, rocky path to the mansion where his master lived. Alas! His bucket had a crack in it. And each time he brought water up the path he lost most of it.

Curiously, the servant noticed his master standing at the door of the mansion watching him every day carry this water up the path, spilling most of it. And yet, the servant was able to see a broad, loving smile on his master’s face. Daily, the servant would drop to his knees when he reached the top. At his master’s feet the servant would express his remorse at failing to do his job, bringing only half a bucket-full of water each time he climbed the path. The master listened lovingly, invited him inside for breakfast, and encouraged him to try again the next day. Which the servant did, faithfully, for the entire season.

When the river froze over, and the last half-bucket full was brought up the path, and once again the servant expressed his shame, sorrow and regret, the master invited him inside to share in a special feast to mark the end of the season and beginning of a new one. On the table spread with the finest breads, vegetables, cheeses and meats, he found bouquets of flowers of the most wondrous varieties and colors.

The servant gasped at the heavenly sight and asked his master, “From where did you find these beautiful flowers?”

“Come, follow me,” the master said, “and see for yourself.” The master led the servant back to the front door just as the sun was rising, illuminating the pathway down to the river. And on both sides of the path the flowers were growing, able to do so because of the water that had daily leaked out from the servant’s cracked bucket.

The Church Doors Are Far Enough!

I’ve hardly ever seen him sitting in the church pew. He didn’t go there. The church door was the dividing line. That’s as far as he went.

But he came, every Sunday morning. Precisely half an hour before the start of the service, he would pull up to the doors in his white, cube van. With engine running, he ran to the church doors, and opened them just enough to reach in and take what he came for. And then he left.

On occasion I would meet him in the parking lot on my way in. “Why don’t you stay awhile, worship with us?” I asked him casually. After all, he seemed so intense with little time to waste. “No, Pastor, I’m here to get the bulletins.” And he promptly turned and sped out of the parking lot. I later learned he delivered the church bulletins to family members around town.

This was his devotion. Week in and week out. A delivery man. A messenger of the Gospel, would you say?

Simeon was an ageing man. If you needed to talk to him, you could almost always find him in the temple. There he would pray and make his regular offerings to God. You almost get the impression he so desperately wanted to meet God. And that somehow his devotion alone wasn’t quite getting him there (read Luke 2:25-33).

Until the day came that God found him. Mary and Joseph brought the Christ child to the temple, to where Simeon went. When Simeon held Jesus in his arms, he knew. It’s as if a veil was lifted. And in the epiphany of the moment, Simeon recognized Jesus for who he was — the Son of God.

In that moment, Simeon finally found what he was looking for: He had encountered the one, true God. In a real meeting between real human beings, between old man and giggling, burping, cooing infant — the holy happened. And Simeon responded in a prayer of thanksgiving, dedication and release. “Now, you can let your servant go in peace. Now, I have met my salvation ….”

I mention Simeon’s encounter with Jesus because it happened in the context of a regular devotion. His epiphany did not occur outside a discipline of faithful worship and service on his part, as unsatisfying or incomplete as it was. Simeon still went.

Today we gather to remember and give thanks for one who loved his routines, who was never late, and who faithfully came to the church doors every week. In his devotion, he was expressing his desire to connect with God.

What makes my parking lot friend’s dedication to picking up the church bulletins and delivering them to family so meaningful, is just that: He didn’t do it just for the sake of getting the bulletins; he wasn’t just taking them home and throwing them out or piling them in boxes. His devotion found purpose and made sense in maintaining his relationships with loved ones and giving them a small token of what deep down was so very important to him.

His devotion found expression in the ministry of bulletin delivery to those who mattered most in his life. And I want to affirm that on this day when we commend him to God’s eternal care, he indeed is finally encountering face-to-face the God who created him and loved him from the beginning. He meets today the God for whom he exercised faithfully his devotion while on earth.

There’s another story in the bible (John 10:23) where we see an older Jesus in the temple. But he’s not in the centre of the temple – in the Holy of Holies -where we might think he ought to be. You know, being the Almighty Son of God and all.

Instead, He is walking around the periphery of the temple (i.e. “the portico of Solomon”). Jesus spends most of his time by the doorways in and out. The Son of God is very much interested in those who come close to the temple but not all the way in. And that’s precisely where He meets my parking-lot friend who came to the doors of the church every week and meets him at the doors to heaven this very day.

That’s also the kind of place where Jesus waits for us every time we dare come close to Him.

Thanks be to God. Amen.