How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
About four days into my eleven day trip to Israel, I realized that I hadn’t seen a banana anywhere. I usually eat a banana a day, and while I had access to fresh melons, pomegranate, dates, apples, cherries, oranges, pineapple, mango, and more– there were no bananas. Now, if you’re not a banana eater, you probably wouldn’t even have noticed the lack of bananas amongst the rainbow of fresh fruit options. But after four days with no banana, I sure noticed their absence. As the days stretched on, I noticed that it wasn’t just that I missed bananas: about eight days in, I really wanted a banana. By the time I landed back in the U.S., I was craving a banana so much that I spent $1.40 for a single banana in the airport.
It’s easy to take things for granted when we have quick access to them all the time. I can and do get bananas at Family Foods all the time when I’m home without thinking twice about it. Traveling internationally made me realize how easy it is to take not only food for granted, but anything. On this trip, we visited religious spaces belonging to Jews and Muslims, and also to Christian denominations whose idea of how to decorate and behave in holy space was quite a bit different from mine. Being away from what was familiar was a challenge, as I longed to find meaning in these spaces without quite feeling at home.
Until, that is, Sunday morning, when we went to worship in the only English-speaking Lutheran church in all of Jerusalem. We settled in for worship, and there in the pew sat a cranberry-colored hymnal, from which the pastor began to play Holy Communion Setting Six, and suddenly I was at ease. I was so used to these words and melodies that the familiar hymnal was almost an unnecessary accessory. Worship was so sweet and satisfying in a way I hadn’t expected it would be only a week after the last time I had been in church, and yet it was exactly what I needed after the whirlwind of days spent visiting so many different and unfamiliar spaces. Confession and forgiveness led to prayers, to readings, to preaching, to prayers, to communion, to blessing, all intermingled with hymns I knew or could at least follow along. I was as far away from home as I’d ever been, and yet I was right at home.
The experience of worship with familiar words was centering both because of how well I knew them and because of how sweet those words are. Words like “peace be with you,” “Lord have mercy,” and “the body of Christ given for you” were sweet to speak and sing and hear. They showed how God’s faithfulness and love are greater than any distance or difference. The sweet familiar words reminded me how often we all need to hear that we are welcomed, chosen, and forgiven. Those words are even sweeter than honey. They nourish the spirit and restore the soul.
Dear God, let your words always be sweet to me. Wherever I go, may I find my home in your words. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.