We have an Animal Blessing Service at my church this Sunday afternoon. We always begin out on the front lawn with songs and prayer, and at the end, we process into the chapel, where the animals are each blessed individually.
We would't have to bring the animals indoors. My husband's church has an animal blessing service at around the same time of year, and the whole service is held at the front entry to the church. They have horses, so I suppose I can see their point. But there's something I really like about looking out over my congregation of people, and assorted dogs, cats, gerbils and canaries (and sometimes, a goat). I'm glad that we bring the animals indoors. It doesn't seem right to have animals in the pews with people, and yet, it does.
There's another part of me that secretly wonders why I love the Blessing of the Animals so much, if it isn't a flaw in me of some sort, a soft sentimentality. Instead of putting my hand on the head of a Golden Retriever, maybe I should be Ending Poverty, or Racism, or doing something much more Important, something that will bring the Reign of God just a few inches closer. In the scheme of things, blessing the animals on Sunday afternoon is not that important. It's not up there with funerals and weddings, it's not as important as feeding the hungry or standing up for those who have been ground into the dust.
And yet, in its own small way, there's something going on here that is important. Some people use their Animals Blessing Service to highlight larger concerns: the important Christian vocation of caring for creation, for one thing. Protecting the vulnerable includes the vulnerable animals who live with us and around us.
But the people who come to our front lawn on Sunday afternoon: they aren't there just because they believe in caring for God's beautiful and vulnerable creation. They may believe in all that, but they are there because they love the creatures they live with, sometimes beyond all reason. They love them, and and in this relationship they catch a glimpse of the grace of God for all creatures, and in this relationship they catch a glimpse of the world to come.
This isn't about "finding God in the beauty of nature"; we're about as likely to find cruelty as beauty in nature. But it is about glimpses -- glimpses of the future that we sometimes get, glimpses of a future where the lion will lie down with the lamb, where tears and pain and death will be no more, where people and animals and friends and enemies will finally live in peace, where everyone will have enough.
That is the future that God desires, and that is the future that God is bringing to being, and that is the end that we walk toward in the way we treat each other now.
And every once in awhile we catch a glimpse of it. When enemies forgive each other. When health is restored. And animals and people sing God's praise together in the sanctuary.