Saturday, June 7, 2014

Home Church Closing--My Favorite Memory

(Many of you have read my words about my home church in Columbus, Georgia closing its doors after 90 years. As I have been thinking of all the things that special place meant to me...I remembered that reproduction of Jesus in the Garden which hung in our church all my growing-up years. I published this on my blog in 2009--but on the eve of this Pentecost Sunday--I wanted to take this page out of my heart and share with you.)

In the little mill church where I grew up there always hung a very nice reproduction of Hans Hoffman's, Christ in Gethsemane. You've seen this picture because for a while it was everywhere. In homes, in Sunday School classrooms and in those tiny leaflets they gave us at the end of that long Sunday school hour. But this particular picture hung back of the choir, directly over the pulpit on the back wall of my home church. Heinrich Hofmann painted this picture of Jesus kneeling in the Garden. It is said to be one of the most copied paintings in the world. The bearded Jesus kneels with his hands folded on a rock. His face is turned heavenward and a radiant light shines from above. In the background of the original painting three disciples sleep. Further away you can make out faintly the walls that surround the city of Jerusalem. But the central focus of this painting is Jesus kneeling in the Garden.

Sunday after Sunday I would make my way up the street of the cotton mill village where I lived. I would walk past the mill, go two blocks and turn left. I would walk another short block until I came to the steps of my church with its tall white columns. I would enter the vestibule and slip into the Sanctuary always sitting on the left side about half-way back. And I would look, Sunday after Sunday, at that painting--Jesus praying in the Garden. I remember that some Sundays after everyone had left the church--making my way up through the choir loft to just stand and look at the picture up close. I can even remember reaching out and gently touching the painting and marveling at its strange power.

All those years, hard cotton-mill years--Jesus was there in the Garden. When the war came and I had nightmares about Hitler and the Japanese and somehow the Indians (thanks to the movies) got mixed up in it all--Jesus prayed in the Garden. As a teenager there were Sundays when I would giggle so hard at nothing and would have to cram a handkerchief in my mouth and hide down low so the preacher would not see me. Jesus still prayed in the Garden. I remember weddings and funerals. I remember the soldier boys from Fort Benning that came to our church and became friends before they went overseas. And Jesus prayed in the Garden. I remember the day that FDR died up the road in the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. I still remember hearing a newspaper boy yelling: "A-Bomb dropped on Japan." Through those painful teenage years, wondering what I would do and where I would go--through it all Jesus prayed in the Garden.

I was invited back to peach in that church years later. I wondered what would be appropriate. And then it hit me. I would preach on Jesus kneeling in the Garden. And I told them that sunny Sunday morning that through it all Jesus knelt in the Garden.

Mattie Mae, our oldest member was there that morning and would be dead within a month. Tempie who began work in the mill and age nine and could neither read nor write-was there. Bessie, our youth leader who scandalized everyone with a divorce had come back for that service. The first girl I ever kissed was sitting in front of me. And Mary Helen, near blind told me later that she could not see me but she heard every word. Scottie came on crutches. Estelle, my mother's best friend who had lost her son my age, was there blinking back the tears. Edward, my good friend was not present. He had been murdered several years before and never lived to see the day he could have come out of the closet and been free. And that Sunday morning I told all those that came that through it all--the good, the, the hard and the ugly--Jesus knelt in the Garden. But not only them but all those who had such a hard time along the way and never made it. Jesus prayed in the Garden for them, too.

Even after all these years I now know that through all my dangers, toils and snares--that Jesus knelt in the Garden for the likes of me. And on the eve of this Pentecost Sunday I bow my head and thank God that once upon a time Jesus really did kneel in the Garden for us all.

                                            --RogerLovette /

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