The Open Chair
In the celebration of the Jewish seder it is traditional to set an extra place and leave an empty chair. This place at the table and the meal are prepared to be available for the prophet Elijah who, tradition suggests, will arrive one day as an unknown guest who will herald the arrival of the Messiah. As part of the seder, extra time, extra thought, extra honor, extra priority is given to the one who is not already there. There is special consideration given to the holy which is found in the visiting stranger.
There is also a Polish Christmas tradition of leaving an empty chair and extra portion prepared. One of the intentions of this tradition is to recognize the wandering and exclusion of Mary, Joseph, and the yet to be born Jesus, as they came for the census and found no room at the inn. Polish Christians honor this tradition to make sure there is always room in their homes and lives for the holy which is found in the visiting stranger. A popular statement in the region is, “A guest at home is God at home”.
As we open up the sanctuary for worship this month, our plan includes leaving a small number of seats available for the holy which is found in the visiting stranger. We may not know their names or faces, but there will be room to join in worship. We will not know their health vulnerabilities or vaccination status, but there will be measures in place to minimize Covid risk, and they will be welcome as we gather for prayer. We will limit our membership’s total attendance for a while to err on the side of safety, and there will be an empty chair set for the holy stranger who chooses to risk connection and celebration here.
Our vision statement as a church is: “We are a community called by God to love and serve all people through a mission of bold action, radical hospitality, inclusivity, and stewardship of all creation.” As we find our way through this new path, thank you for your care and witness. Thank you for prioritizing the stranger while accepting a measure of personal discomfort. We can love and serve all people, and be radically hospitable and inclusive, by making room and choosing to continue to protect those who are most vulnerable.
This adventure will continue and adjustments will be made, I suspect, with some regularity. For now, it is so very good to be able to gather once again. It is so very good to set the table and offer an extra chair. Pastor Colin