The universe was unusually active Wednesday. The Atlantis space shuttle penetrated the Earth’s atmosphere with rapid-fire sonic booms and screamed in for a landing at Cape Canaveral. U.S. military experts launched a missile above the Pacific Ocean to knock out a wayward satellite before it errantly fell to Earth. Meanwhile, a cloudless, subzero winter night gave clear view to a lunar eclipse in the Eastern sky.
Beneath this celestial outdoor theater, we humans negotiated the routine of our midweek days: getting home from work and school, scuttling about for dinner, trying to stay out of the cold. In a south-central Minneapolis neighborhood, Wednesday meant Zion Lutheran Church opened its doors for its community dinner and midweek prayer service.
The dinner is served weekly to all comers, which in the Lyndale neighborhood means a cross-section of those in need, the civically active, kids needing homework help, the neighbor across the street, the elderly — in general the eclectic mix of souls who enter a church when it opens its doors.
Once fed, a good number of those assembled headed from the church dining room upstairs to the sanctuary for evening prayer. Participants took turns reading prayers and Scripture.
An older man, whose head hung low off sloped shoulders and who spoke thick and haltingly, volunteered to read. The verse was Jeremiah 14:9. The man read aloud, slowly but more surely and clearly than he had spoken all night: “You, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name; do not forsake us.”
With all manner of racket occurring up in the heavens, those present in the quiet, candlelit sanctuary bid God’s presence in their midst. The man who read Scripture proclaimed that God called him by name, as his Judeo-Christian heritage teaches. Most of the regulars attending Zion on Wednesday evening also knew him, and each other, by name.
Being known is one reason folks gather in the name of their religion, whether Christian, Jew or Muslim. In Zion’s case, its church building is the oldest surviving structure in the Lyndale area, providing not only the sanctuary of sacred space but a sign of endurance in the neighborhood and the city.
On a night when they could visibly see the expanse of creation in the empyrean sphere, these believers worshipped a God who became personal and joined in the midst of them, not forsaking them but seeing that they were fed.