Thirty years ago, a young Jewish woman rode the subway to downtown Montreal with her husband. She still remembers sitting on the right hand side of the metro car, discussing how they had decided the night before to divide their few belongings and live separate lives. After 3 years of marriage, he was absorbed in other things.
The night before, after dividing up their few possessions, she was sitting on their bed, flipping through the Montreal Star and arrived at the Religion section. Looking up, she said “let’s go to church tomorrow”.
“Sure”, came the reply, “which one?”
“I heard Snowdon Baptist is good; Monique knew someone that went there”.
“There’s one called People’s Church downtown, across McGill”.
“Sure, let’s go there. I like the name”.
In they walked, nervously. She, unsure if she was to cover her head or not, him unsure what one does in church. They walked across the back of the sanctuary and sat on the far left hand side of the square room. A young red headed man with a red goatee who had ridden the subway with them, also walked into the same church. He said “Hi I’m Victor and this is my wife Sheryl and our daughter Amy. He introduced us to a few people our age, some students from McGill, others from Concordia, still others working folks. “They look pretty ‘normal’”, she thought. “Not at all like ‘Jesus freaks’”.
She sat on the hard wooden pews, listening to the periodic thumping sound coming from the hot water radiators on the far right hand side of the church. She remembers the smell of the old red carpet, dank from years of wet boots and slush from Sherbrooke Street.
Then, quiet music started emanating from the pipe organ, where a slender, older woman sat on the hard bench, her straight hair curled perfectly under all around. For some reason, the sound of the music reminded her of one of those accordions that men on the street play as they beg money, with a monkey on their shoulder.
An older black man with a Caribbean accident made a few announcements and then everyone was invited to pull out these burgundy red books from the pew rack in front of them; musty smelling books, with yellowed and worn pages. The first song they sang was “Our God of Abraham, Praise”.
“God of Abraham?” The words and the minor melody resonated with my Jewish soul. Suddenly the stranger felt welcome.
They sang a few other songs, none of which I remember. Then we were asked to sit down.
A few men in suits passed heavy wooden rimmed plates into which people place envelopes, money and loose change.
Then, as if on cue, the woman on the organ began to play a melody that everyone knew. Everyone stood to their feet and sang in unison; “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. A-men”. Then they sat down.
Like a formal dinner where one doesn’t know which fork to eat with, I watched when others stood and sat and did likewise. This was “their” dinner and I was a guest.
A young slender man got up from one of the heavy wood chairs at the front that looked to me like thrones, and stood in the pulpit. He mentioned that he was newly arrived from Atlanta and to be the new Associate Pastor. He gave the message from Psalm 1. He seemed a bit nervous, but the words he spoke were heard in my soul as God’s words. He spoke about what life is like for one to be planted by the streams of living water, about the destiny of those that don’t know God and the blessings of a fruitful life, for those that do.
This all seemed so foreign to me, so unlike any synagogue I had been in. Thankfully, I thought, they didn’t have one of those big crosses here. It could almost be a synagogue, actually; except that the men and women sat together and there is that organ.
Then he asked us to close our eyes and bow our heads.
“With every head bowed and every eye closed…” the man at the front spoke.
He asked any of us that wanted to turn away from the path of the wicked to say after him, the prayer he will pray. In my heart, I repeated every word he said. Tears streamed down my eyes and I frantically wiped them away.
“With every eye still closed”, he continued, “if you committed your life to Jesus this morning, please just slip up your hand”. I waited. I heard him say “thank you, I see your hand”. Then silence, except for the sound of my own heart in my ears. My chest was pounding and I desperately wanted to put up my hand. Should I? What if I don’t? The prompting became stronger and stronger. I raised my hand. “I see your hand, thank you”. He saw my hand.
Way more than that, He, the God of Abraham saw my heart; a heart broken and yielded to Him.
I did everything I could to compose myself, as we were asked to open our eyes. We were then invited, if we had put up our hand, to fill out a little card that was in the pew rack in front of us. When no one was looking, I took one.
Apparently, because it was the first Sunday of the month something special was about to happen. The man who spoke talked about Passover.
“Passover? That’s my holiday!”
He talked about how Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took matzoh and broke it and said “take, eat, this is My body broken for you”.
“Matzoh? What kind of church sings about the God of Abraham and talks about Passover and eats matzoh?”
He then said “after supper, He took the cup saying “this is My blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins, drink this in remembrance of Me”.
He then said that anyone that knew Jesus as their “personal Saviour” could eat the matzoh and drink the juice, remembering His death for them but if they didn’t, to please just pass the plate on.
“I can eat and drink this”, I thought “because He is my Messiah. He is mine!” I didn’t yet understand, that I was also His.
The same men in dark suits that earlier passed around the heavy wooden plates that people put envelopes and money and coins in, now passed around some shiny plates with little pieces of matzoh in them. We were instructed from the front to take a piece of matzoh and wait and eat it together. The plate passed to me and I took a little piece of matzoh.
Then the man at the front said “take eat, this is My body broken for you for the forgiveness of your sins”, everyone ate their little piece of matzoh. I raised it to my lips and ate. It tasted sweeter than any Passover matzoh I had ever eaten.
The same men in dark suits passed around some shiny stacked silver trays with little plastic cups resting in holes in the trays that contained what looked like wine. I took one and waited. The man at the front said “this is My blood poured out for the forgiveness of your sins; drink it in remembrance of Me.”. I drank. Juice, grape juice, not wine, but the sweetest cup.
Then the man said “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes”.
We sang another song from one of those old red books.
Then another, shorter, muscular but slightly balding older man in a light coloured suit, who sat in one of the big chairs up at the front, stood and came to the pulpit. In a strong voice he said something about God knowing and making us and that “we are His people and the sheep of His pasture”.
Then the organ played and people shook each others hand and talked. The young red-haired man with the red goatee came over and talked with us. I didn’t tell him anything about what happened. He invited us to join him and some of his friends for lunch at a local restaurant and so we did. It was so odd; it was like meeting distant relatives that I’d heard about but never met before.
Such vivid memories of a Sunday thirty years ago and the start of my life lived planted by the streams of living water.
Thirty years later…
A life lived with no regrets regardless of circumstances; a life that started at His feet perseveres at His feet and will end when I see His face.
December 3, 1982 – December 3, 2012