Choked up at the Rail
Yesterday, in the middle of our worship time together, I found myself a little choked up at the communion rail. The congregation was singing the words of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” and there I was with the truly awesome responsibility and opportunity to distribute Christ’s Body and Blood and to tell those gathered around the altar that their sins were forgiven. It was an amazing moment.
For most people gathered in worship with us yesterday, I would guess it was probably just another ordinary Sunday. We came, we confessed, we ate, we sang, we listened and then we left. Just like many of us have done hundreds of times before. Nothing unusual. Just more of the same old, same old.
Isn’t it easy to feel that way? The ordinary surrounds us. Every day we encounter the ordinary in everything we do. Each morning my alarm goes off and I roll out of bed. I work out, I eat breakfast and then I head into the office. No two days are exactly identical, but they all are filled with ordinary tasks. In the evening I come home, spend time with my wife, and then we go to bed, only to wake up and do it all over again.
In the church we feel like we are surrounded by the ordinary too. We show up, follow the same liturgy, sing the same hymns, read the same stories from Scripture and hear about how we are sinners and how God forgives us. It seems like we’re just repeating the same stuff over and over again. Nothing out of the ordinary. Sure, we might occasionally have a special service, or a baptism or something like that, but most of the time it just seems ordinary.
And yet as I stood there holding the chalice and listening to the people sing, I couldn’t help but get choked up at what I was both witnessing and being a part of. I was choked up not with a feeling of sadness, but rather a feeling of awe. You see, when we gather together for worship, it is anything but ordinary.
The third verse of “The Church’s One Foundation” says:
Though with a scornful wonder
The world sees her oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed
Yet saints their watch are keeping;
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.
It’s easy to get caught up in the problems that we face in the world. Many will argue that we’re living in a time unlike any other. A time marked by extreme polarization, fighting, and disunity. Unfortunately, these problems aren’t unique to our politics and government. They also make their way into our churches. We might be tempted to throw up our hands in the air and walk away from all of the hypocrites we’ve ever met in the church and the people who have been unkind to us. If we stay, we might at the very least cry out to God, “How long?” “How long until Jesus comes back and cleans up this whole mess?”
The last verse of “The Church’s One Foundation goes like this:
Yet she on earth has union
With God, the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won.
O blessed heav’nly chorus!
Lord, save us by Your grace
That we, like saints before us,
May see You face to face.
The hymn writer reminds us that when we gather together for worship we are gathering for something that is anything but ordinary. When we come into God’s house we’re coming into the place where he has promised to meet us. He speaks his words of forgiveness to us. He speaks a testimony to us about who He is and what He has done through His Word. And in the Lord’s Supper he comes to us in his true body and his true blood to be physically present for us in a way that we can see, touch, smell, taste, and hear.
I think that’s exactly what I was reminded of in that moment. That no matter what happens to our lives, to our churches, or to the world, God is in control and we are connected to Him and to one another through our baptism into his family.
Sometimes we just need to slow down and think about what is happening around us and what we are experiencing. Sure, the worship service might seem like just another ordinary thing, but it really is heaven breaking into earth for a few moments every week to tell us that we are forgiven and that we are connected with “angels and archangels and all of the company of heaven” to praise God for all that he has done for us. That’s pretty awesome!
My name is Tom. I'm fascinated by the ways that people, ideas, current events and theology interact with each other.