It’s a Sunday morning in a small town church, and the preacher stands before the congregation, his Bible open to today’s chosen Scripture. From where I am sitting in my church pew, I glance across the aisle at the couple on the second row, sitting side by side and sharing a hymnbook.
Church dates are the cutest. It looks like it’s their first.
She modestly smooths her dress over her knee, and he tentatively reaches out and puts his hand on top of hers. For a moment he looks apprehensive, as though he’s afraid that his gesture will be rejected. But although she is too shy to reciprocate at first, she turns toward him and her eyes light up with that spark of young love.
Ever so gently his thumb strokes the back of her hand, and the words of the sermon fade out as I become absorbed in their little romance, staring shamelessly.
Because it looks like their first church date, and for her, perhaps it is.
But her dress is outdated and her hair is white. And by now, as her ragged breath comes in gasps and she grips his hand, looking frightened and ill at ease in her wheelchair, their Sunday morning excursions number in the thousands.
Fifty-two Sundays a year, for at least sixty years, they have walked together through the doors of the church. But now he walks behind her as he wheels her toward their pew. When the communion tray is passed around, he breaks the bread for her, and the ushers respectfully stand and wait as he feeds her the body of Christ in a sacred moment.
She becomes anxious, compulsively plucking at her dress and loudly whispering words that don’t make sense. But he turns his creased and careworn face toward her, with love and longing and a depth in his eyes that I, at 21, cannot understand. And he steadily reaches over and takes her wrinkled hand in his, comforting her as he gently continues to rub her hand with his thumb. Her breathing slows and her panic subsides, and she looks down at their entwined fingers as though she is surprised to see them there. Perhaps as though it is the first time.
At church, we talk a lot about Jesus and we talk a lot about love, and now I’m not sure that any of us, even the preacher, really knows what we’re talking about.
But I think Jim does. Oh, I think Jim does.