Birthdays, Bars, & Sacraments / by Sarah Schwartz

I.

“Happy Birthday!” someone said into my ear as they embraced me from behind.

Mid lunch hour conversation with my friend Katie, I jumped in my seat, startled by the sudden sensation of arms around me.

Who is touching me? I thought, as Katie laughed at the confusion on my face. From my periphery, I glimpsed a waterfall of perfectly curled dark hair.

“Hillary!?!” I yelled as I turned around, wrapping my arms around her neck.

“Happy birthday, Sar!” she repeated, laughing.

When I finally let her go, she joined us at our table, explaining how our friends had pitched in to fly her down for my birthday.

“You’re here...you’re actually here?!” I asked over and over again, reaching out to grab her hand to make sure she was real.

II.

We were out celebrating the next day at a rooftop bar in downtown Los Angeles, dressed to the nines, giggling over cocktails and recounting favorite memories from the year I was twenty-three.

I slipped off to the bathroom, only to be met by Katie a few minutes later as I was washing my hands.

“We’re closing up our tabs, let’s go,” she said as I looked at her in the mirror.

Over the years I've learned to identify Katie's, "just-trust-me-on-this-I-have-your-best-interest-at-heart" voice.

Having total faith in that voice, and in her, I gathered my things and followed her lead.

As I connected the dots on our walk to the car (they had spotted an ex boyfriend of mine right as I left for the bathroom) I wrapped my arm around her waist, needing to feel someone next to me, suddenly flooded with gratitude for friends who love me with an unparallelled level of ferocity.

III.

The following day, I gathered in a familiar kitchen with familiar faces, holding the hands of my church family as we prayed and sang the doxology over a loaf of freshly baked sourdough bread and a wooden goblet of red wine.

I need to know you’re here, that you’re with to me, I prayed as I took the elements, these tangible signs of intangible grace.

We moved to the living room to worship, and as we sang, I rested my head on the shoulder next to mine, and thought of the mystery that is Christ’s presence with us in the sacraments. Things we can touch with our hands and partake of with our bodies, that Calvin describes as “a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign.”

My mind wandered over the events of the last 48 hours, and how sacred, sacramental, even, friendship is—friendship whose love mirrors, proclaims, and affirms the invisible reality of the relentless love of God.

How these flesh and blood people are the means by which I experience Grace over and over and over again.

How their nearness serves to remind me of our ever present, close at hand God.

How the love we share, as John writes, invites God to abide with us, and make his love complete in us.

Hallelujah.

"No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us." (1 John 4:12)