This Sunday, Virginia-Highland Church will celebrate “water communion.” We are asking everyone to bring water from their lives. They can bring it from places they visited during the summer, or from their homes, or from special places in their lives. We are going to share the water, and then, in the year ahead, it will be the source of water for various rituals and times of remembering. We will use some of the water this Sunday to say goodbye to a longtime member and deacon who is moving away.
The idea of water communion, which I learned about from my Unitarian Universalist friends, is brand new to our church. When we first planned this, and decided to do it the last Sunday of August, we didn’t know that we also would be ending a sermon series called “Stump the Preacher.” The members asked their tough questions about faith, and the pastors have been trying to answer them during August. The question for this Sunday is “What does hell mean in a progressive church in which we believe God’s love and grace redeems everyone?”
Ironically, that doctrine of redemption is called “Universalism,” so I guess it is only appropriate that we are borrowing a ritual from the Unitarian Universal Association of churches. People sometimes say that I don’t believe in hell, but that really isn’t true. I can’t imagine that any pastor doesn’t believe in hell. We all have had plenty of members over the years who have put us through enough hell to make believers of us, and if members don’t music directors will. (Just kidding Randy.)
You probably don’t need me to describe life’s hells for you. Sit for just a moment, and the feeling of hellish times in your own life will come flooding back all too easily. You may feel like you are going through one right now. Is there an eternal water available to quench the thirst and cool the brow? I think so. The mistake we too often make is thinking we can find it ourselves. That is why the idea of communion and community is so important. Hell is isolation and loneliness. It is being cut off from Love rather than embraced.
This Sunday, I invite you to return to the cool embrace of Grace. If you are not in Atlanta, find a place where grace abounds, and give God’s love another chance to take your hand and lead you to the water.
Rev. Michael Piazza