Just before Easter I attended a very busy Mass in a cathedral. There was incense, a throng of priests, beautiful readings and it was standing room only.
I’m not great with crowds of people, and tend to get quite claustrophobic and anxious, so I stood at the back of the cathedral. People kept trickling in even after Mass had started, and the ushers were keen to keep the internal doors closed so as people filed in, I stayed at the back.
At one point I stepped out to get some air in the porch; I could hear the music floating through the air and I could still smell the incense, but as I turned to go back inside, I found the internal double doors were closed but there was a gap between them through which I could see a sliver of everything that was happening. I could see the congregation, the priests and the altar, but I was not inside and part of it.
This incidental situation zoomed out posed some serious questions: Is this how I am living a lot of my life? Outside the double doors, peering through the cracks at the action inside? Is this how I’m living out my faith? Afraid to stand fully in the crowd, always finding my spot close to the exit? Am I rejecting God’s grace, and the presence of Christ?
Would I do this if was at the gates of Heaven? I would like to think not – that I would be bowled over by being invited inside into God’s presence forever, but would I need a push? A gentle nudge from an angel to say “it’s ok, your sins are forgiven and God’s grace is here for you?” Or would I be stubborn and try and take back control for things I’d already given over to God?
My experience in the cathedral has made me wonder about what it means to stand on the sidelines. It’s a physical expression of ‘commitaphobia’ on some level. Hedging your bets, sitting on the fence. It’s all sort of the same thing. Admittedly, I simply stood at the back because I knew I would be distracted by anxiety if I had sat inside in the middle of a row but at the same time our lives should not be governed by fear – a lesson I know in my head but which has yet to settle as truth in my heart.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 6:15-16.