This morning we went to church at Stor Kyrka, the church the King and Queen of Sweden attend (very occasionally) in Gamla Stan. We have found out that my grandmother Rosa was baptized in a church called St Johannes Kyrka, also close to our hotel, but though the church still stands, it no longer serves as a parish and the building is rented out to a Polish Catholic faith community.
We walked from our hotel, a shiny modern building in a fairly modern part of town, across a cobblestone bridge that dates back to the 12th century, into Gamla Stan and up a steep hill to Stor Kyrka. After about 15 minutes, at a little before 11:00 AM, the priest who was celebrating this morning came out and said a few introductory words and then invited us to sit in silence and listen to the bells. It was real bells, bells that have been rung for hundreds of years. I’ve been in other places where bells rang to announce the beginning of a service, but somehow today, I heard them differently. Eucharist means celebration and today, the connection between joy and celebration ran deep for me. It felt like those bells were pealing forth with jubilation.
I sometimes feel like I’ve become the biggest cry-baby on Earth because I couldn’t stop weeping during the Högmässa—the Lutheran High Mass. I’ve never been to a service in Swedish before and again, the gratitude. You can hear the opening hymn here—a piece of music I have heard and sung since I was a child, one that Mom just loved, but that I didn’t even know was a hymn sung in church. I should have known-it is a celebration of summer, not for summer’s sake alone but for what it reveals about God’s love. But in an agnostic family, what made my parents so happy was describing the wonder of summer after a long winter.
I said the creed, I sang the Gloria, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei in Swedish—my eyes able to read the words, my mouth able to shape itself into sounds that I have heard since before I was born but had never used to speak to God. Everything was so known and well-worn from use over and over again, every Sunday in English and Spanish, and now so new for being in Swedish.
Perhaps even more meaningful for me, it was one of those loose strands I talked about a couple of days ago, woven into the part of my life that has been most separate from my family of origin. My dad and I sat in a pew together, we wept together as we sang Nu Blomstertidan Kommen. Perhaps most movingly, our voices blended as we started saying, “Vår Far...”—we prayed the Our Father together, in Swedish, in church, on a Sunday morning. Another of those time-gifts I struggle to fathom in all it’s complexity, paradox and beauty.
The many strands of my life make particular sense with my dad. A few times as we walked down the street in Stockholm and in Uppsala, people have given us puzzled looks and we finally figured out it’s because we mix our three languages together (Swespanglish?) as we talk. My brother Hans is fluent in Spanish, English, Dutch, German and French. My brother Nils in French, Spanish and English. I am the only one who learned Swedish and when my father is gone, I will lose the richness of this particular kind of conversation. I don’t dwell on the loss; rather, I am mindful of what amazing moments these are right now. After this morning, my father is also the only one in my family who has been with me in worship in all three languages. On a cosmic scale, this is all so insignificant. For my heart, it is another miracle of intersection and completion.
And there is one more dimension to that miracle—which I started to describe as small but didn’t because that would be too much of a misnomer—there is no such thing as a “small” miracle. When I reached out my hands to receive communion and heard the priest say “Kristi kropp, bröd från himmelen” I offered more of myself than I had ever been able to before. Perhaps I also know God more fully now than I ever could before.
Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see…