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“Let me welcome you into the throne room. . .”
– Rev. Sid Ypma at our closing worship for a Campus Minister’s Conference on May 26 2022
I had something else drafted for today. I’m sure it was fine.
But then on Thursday morning, my chest heaved and tears ran down my cheeks. The early draft went out the window.
“Let me welcome you into the throne room…”
This last week, I gathered for the first time in a couple years with my colleagues from Christian Reformed campus ministries across North America. When together, we hug and laugh. We listen and learn. We eat and drink. We ask endless questions. We celebrate those new to this campus ministry craft. We say teary goodbyes to those moving on to pursue another call (including those retiring).
And we worship.
The night before this past Thursday’s worship gathering, my last living grandparent, Richarla VanEe, passed away in Pella, Iowa. Hers was a storied life – full of work and prayer – all of which happened on farmland in that Pella area. Her dad died when she was 2 months old, and so she was raised by her mom, grandparents, uncles and aunts.
Twenty-one years later, on May 9, 1948, she and grandpa ‘confessed their sin against the 7th commandment’ (according to the council minutes of Otley CRC) and were able to have their firstborn (conceived before wedlock) baptized soon after their public confession. She gave birth to ten children, one dying young, and for decades lived out the vocation of a mother to many and wife to one farmer.
In 1986, when her husband (my grandpa) died, she became the lone matriarch of the VanEe clan, her children discovered her hidden gifts in finances as she helped manage the family farms. Today, there are 136 living members of that clan, and seven who have already been translated to glory, including this storied-sinner-made-saint-in-Jesus, Grandma Richarla.
I took some time alone on Wednesday night to “hold all these things in my heart.” I was also consoled by my beloved campus ministry colleagues, even as they gave me space to share a short video of my grandma praying-and-working before she died.
Then, as Thursday morning arrived, someone showed me a whole other video made by some fellow pastors. Our Christian Reformed Synod had met online last Wednesday night to elect officers, and these two colleagues were reviewing the events of that opening online session. As they did so, they expressed their disappointment with the opening reflection on Jesus’ high priestly prayer because of the focus on unity without a focus on “the truth.” Then they went on to review the selection of officers. They were both encouraged that the three men who were elected were “solid and orthodox” and were “thoughtful and have pastoral hearts.”
For those familiar with the happenings in the CRC, these three men are all connected to the Abide Project, as are the two reviewers. The elected Synod president helped author and signed the Human Sexuality Report and spoke at an Abide online gathering. The Synod vice-president is hosting and speaking at the Abide’s “Convention of Confessional CRCs” that will chart a path forward for “orthodox CRCs” after Synod 2022. And the first clerk is the secretary of the Abide team.
“Even in the selection of our officers, we are strongly in one direction. . .and we can, in a healthy way, move the denomination in a solid orthodox way.”
To be honest, I was thrown off. This seemed a fruit of a polarized moment. “Is this a victory lap?” someone posted in response.
All of this. So much. All held in my heart. And then. . .worship.
“Let me welcome you into the throne room of God,” said Sid. My tears started almost immediately.
And then, standing in the middle of our circle of fifty campus ministers and students, he boldly and bodily recounted the Revelation of John, chapters 4 and 5. We heard of the one on the throne, the twenty-four elders around the throne, the seven lamps, the four living creatures. I felt the awe of “Holy, holy, holy.” And I too almost saw the scroll in the hand of the one on the throne.
“Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”
And my tears mingled with those of John. I felt the tension. Holding my grandma’s death inside; is there hope? Wondering what will happen to the denomination that I love; is there hope?
“Do not weep!” says one of the elders to me. “See! The Lion!” And I looked – there I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.
My chest heaved. Tears continued. I saw the beloved. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”
My heart joined the four living creatures in saying “Amen.” And I joined in worship of the worthy one.
And then. . . “I believe; help my unbelief.”