In 1848, General Zachery Taylor was fresh from his victories in the Mexican-American War, when the Whig Party set its eyes upon him as a presidential contender. In an era of frequently rancorous and deadlocked political party conventions, at the Whig convention in Philadelphia, Taylor was joyously and resoundingly elected as the party’s candidate for president.
But the General himself was not present; he was back at home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, tending to his farm. Enthusiastic Whig Party leaders immediately dashed off a letter to Taylor, extending the offer and honor of the nomination, and they eagerly awaited Taylor’s acceptance. And waited; and waited. A second letter was sent, to which there was also no reply. Only after a third missive was sent, by which time some Whig Party leaders were rethinking their choice of candidate, did Zachery Taylor finally get the word of his nomination.
You see, in the 1840s, virtually all United States postage was paid on receipt. General Taylor’s letters had arrived at his local post office with postage due, and because of a mix-up, the invitations kept ending up in the dead letter box. So it was that Zachery Taylor almost missed becoming President of the United States due to a letter that got lost in the mail!
In light of the Taylor incident and others, Postmaster General Cave Johnson introduced to the United States the prepaid postage stamp. From then on, if a sender wanted to ensure that his correspondent received a letter, package or gift, the sender could pay the postage in advance. The recipient had to do nothing at all except receive with open arms whatever gifts were sent through the mail, even an invitation to be President of the United States.
It seems so many of the things we receive have, as it were, postage due on receipt. There is always fine print, always strings attached. Even the most important, intangible things in life such as acceptance and love are, in our experience, conditional. If we don’t pay the postman, we are left empty handed.
The grand exception is the grace of God. Repeatedly in the Gospels, God’s love, incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ, shows up with healing power and accepting embrace without conditions, with no postage due. This is no less true in our own day. And unlike the U.S. Mail, God’s grace refuses to settle in the dead letter box. It arrives newly, day after day after day, as Good News to be received with no strings attached: We are cherished and accepted by the God who creates us in love more than we can ask or imagine.
The invitation we receive from God to be part of the life of grace is a greater gift even than a summons to be President of the United States. This month, as we begin a new semester of ministry, programming, and fellowship at Christ Church, it is my hope that every Cathedral parishioner will accept God’s gift of grace with open arms and joyous hearts.