Two weeks ago, I was in England for some international Anglican meetings. We began our board meeting with the African Bible study method that was used at the last Lambeth Conference. The method is derived from the practice of Lectio Divina and involves reading a scripture several times in small groups using different Bible translations and then reflecting on specific questions: What is a word or phrase that inspires or captures your attention? How does that passage touch your life today? What does God want me to do or to be? How does God want me to change? The Bible study concludes in a circle where the participants hold hands and respond to, “I thank God today for…” and “I ask God today for…” and finish with the Lord’s Prayer.
My small group of six people included board members from the United States, Hong Kong and South America. The scripture passage we used was Matthew 9:9-17, which begins with Jesus calling to Matthew, the tax collector, saying, “Follow me.” The reflections from our international group were rich in their diversity and depth. There were many who centered their reflections on verses 16-17 that speak to sewing a patch of new cloth on an old garment and the pouring of new wine into old wineskins, but I found myself repeatedly returning to Jesus’ very simple, “Follow me.” Depending on the translation, it seemed as if it could be interpreted as either an invitation or a command. Over the course of the next few days, that simple invitation/command stayed with me as I continued to pray about its meaning in my own life.
My trip concluded with the honor of participating in the Sunday Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral. During the time of communion, I was paired with the dean of Canterbury Cathedral and followed him as we circled around the altar rail to administer communion. When we had seemingly finished serving, the dean turned to me and asked, “Jan, will you follow me?” At that point, we left the elevated chancel area to go into the congregation to serve the frail and disabled who were unable to climb the steps to the high altar. My meditations of that week came together in that very moment in a profound way when we left the safe, familiar, “enclosed” space to go into the midst of the people to serve the most fragile among us.
I believe Jesus continually calls us to leave the safe, certain and familiar to respond to the most fragile among us. Sometimes we may hear it as an invitation, but it seems that the gospel message is clear that it is a command for all who would seek to be disciples of Christ. Follow me. How will you respond?
Jan Cope is vicar of Washington National Cathedral. Find Rev. Canon Jan Cope on Facebook.