A misadventure with a chair while having a coffee is a lesson in grace.
Last week I was enjoying a coffee in a local café while waiting for my train. It was a really hot day, so I was wearing a favourite dress, long, white, flowing cotton with small buttons down the front. It is a dress for hot weather. With the time for the train getting nearer, I finished my coffee and got up to leave. But I was trapped. The chair came with me. This wasn’t a case where my behind had filled the seat and got stuck, rather like the cartoons or the prank played on Sister Clarence in Sister Act II, but I was firmly attached to the chair.
One of the small buttons on my dress had slipped between the seat and the leg supports and twisted, acting as a nail, pinning the dress to the chair. It was an amusing sight as I hoisted my dress, and the chair onto the table and tried to extricate myself, to no avail. I needed three hands, to hold the chair and maneuver the button without ripping the dress. Fortunately, other customers came to my aid, all laughing at the improbability of my predicament.
It struck me that we are in that impossible situation, trapped by sin and helpless to get out by ourselves. So often we think that to be better people, better Christians, we simply need to try harder, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, be wiser, or cleverer. The truth is, we don’t. For me to be released I had to rely on others, submitting to their wisdom as they twisted the button a different way and released me. There was a certain amount of embarrassment: would I have to remove my dress, how could I be so foolish as to get into that state, not being able to do things myself.
When it comes to sin, we are stuck, powerless and unable to do anything about it. We trapped by the systematic sinful powers of the world we live in. Over the summer we have looked at climate and creation care, and we have also realized that our small efforts are a drop in the ocean compared to what needs to be done. Our lives are trapped by the machinery of society: use of cars, plastics, pollutants, fossil fuels, unfair trade practices. When we collect our prescriptions, we cannot demand that tablets come in bottles and not blister packs. What is to be done?
Being freed from the chair was an act of grace. My liberation came from others, leaving their own drinks and coming to my aid. Being liberated from sin is an act of grace, Jesus our Emmanuel, leaving the Father’s side and coming to our aid, even giving his all on the cross, so that we are liberated. Being a Christian is not dependent on what I do, say, believe, or pray. It is simply being willing to allow Jesus to free me, and for me to enter into a relationship with him.
Of course, I know I will be careful when wearing that dress and sitting down, I don’t want it to happen again. But for a brief moment, the other customers and myself, were in a relationship marked by grace and laughter. In our lives we are in a relationship marked by grace, forgiveness and laughter. We are liberated and set free.
It all reminds me of those wonderful lines in the old hymn:
“My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”
May we embrace our freedom to follow Christ who has set us free from entanglement.