Thursday, November 20, 2014

Supper Four


When we speak of communion with Christ we usually think of it in two different ways. One is knowing that we are always with Him or He is always with us. Matthew 28:20 "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." We feel the closeness as we speak to Him in prayer or visit Him through the scriptures. We sense His presence most especially in times of difficulty, sickness or even the passing of a loved one. We are people who love the stories of Him and see how He was with the people of the first century. Lazarus dies and Jesus weeps. People come to listen to Him, he has compassion on them because they were both like sheep without a shepherd and they were hungry. So He feeds them spiritually and physically. 

 As we read the stories we are moved by His love for the people and realize that what we are seeing with them is what we should be seeing with us. The woman taken in the act of adultery is one special story that seems to move us and touch our hearts deeply. I always picture the woman barely clinging to her clothes, since she was grabbed by wicked, unmerciful hands in an obviously planned event. She barely had time to cover her nakedness before she was dragged from the room out into the light of Jesus and the shadow of those who would attempt to make a fool of the Savior. She's sitting on the ground, leaning on one hand, with her head bowed so those around her couldn't see her face. I picture her with her face in shame one minute and the next with a look of contempt for those who would use her like she was nothing, just a tool in their evil game. 

Once their jeering was over and they, with their heads bent in shame, walked silently away, Jesus looked down at the woman. He wasn't looking down ON her, but looking down at her as she sat on the ground. "Where are all your accusers? Are there none who are accusing you?"

The tightness in her chest begins to ebb and she unclenches her fists and her breath begins to even out, at least this is how I see it. Then she answers, "No one, Lord."
She knew this man before her was not one of the raucous crowd who had just left, but He was special. She called Him Lord.

"I don't condemn you either." I hear these words in gentle tones. I see a smile, not of admiration, but of love and compassion for this humiliated woman. I also hear words of warning, "Go and don't continue is such sin."

I picture Him extending His arm and helping her to her feet. Thee is a desire in her to hug Him and tell Him thank you, but she restrains because of what she had been doing before this whole humiliating experience began. To put her arms around Him wouldn't have seemed appropriate. So I see her smile, wrap her arms around her chest and walk away, feeling better about herself then she had in months, perhaps years.

This is how I see Jesus with me/us. Eager to forgive and gentle in His warnings. This is the first way we see our communion with Jesus.

The second way is when we meet Him at the table. On the first day of the week we assemble for the express purpose of dining with Jesus, Acts 20:7. We are gathered to break bread and share some juice with Him and with our brothers and sisters. We are going to commune together as a family. When we read Psalm 139 we realize there is no where we can go to hide from His presence, even if we wanted to. He is just too big. At the same time, we see Him sitting at the table with us, not filling all in all (Yes. I know He still does this even when we are at table with Him), but joining us and occupying a seat as each one of us is occupying. He is not small, but He is with us, in our likeness, as a brother, a friend, an equal. He is being Emmanuel - God with us. 

As reminders of things Jesus did and said are offered to the diners and the bread is passed, we are eating and thinking our own thoughts of the Savior. We are thinking of things we, as individuals, need to think and remember. It may be a thought of Him raising the widow's only son from the dead or we may be thinking of how He saved the newlyweds from humiliation when He turned water into wine. Whatever it is, it is what we are needing at the moment, because in those thoughtful moments we are demonstrating again and again that Jesus IS all in all and offers to us what we are needing when we are needing it most. This is one of the great things about the Supper. We gather with Him and are reminded of powerful, positive, life giving and sharing things. We are reminded of that which will meet us where we are at and we will be renewed all over again.

The Supper is prepared, we are gathered together and sitting at the table. Let's eat! 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Supper Three

Seeing More In the Supper

I’m discovering that this great blessing we share on the first day of each week, the Supper of the Lord, is more than I have believed and practiced before. With each passing day and every scripture I read I see the Christ in it and understand just a touch more about who and what He is. In gaining understanding I’m able to see more in the Supper than before, and in seeing it I’m blessed with a greater nearness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

John begins his narrative of the Christ with the following:

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

This tells us great things about God and God’s purposes. “In the beginning was the Word…” John begins his story with a reference to God’s creative purposes. The first thing shown is the “Word”, which we know is the Christ, the Messiah, and the Savior of the world. Then he tells us that this “Word” created everything.  Keep this in mind, because we are coming right back to John, but first…

Look at Paul’s writings in Ephesians 1:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

See what Paul shows us in his narrative of events what took place before the foundation of the world.  We must look back there for there is where the great riches in Christ all began.  I don’t know how eternity works and getting my mind around it is difficult. Yet somewhere out in that vast eternity God thought of this great beginning of creating and loving mankind. And His loving of mankind included Him choosing to make His home with us or, better yet, our home with Him. God wanted to live with us. This is an amazing thought!

Look at Colossians 1:15ff. 

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

We see again that the narrative begins with God’s creative purposes being brought before us. By Him, by the Christ, all things were created. Before Christ began His work there was nothing in this physical realm, for there was no physical realm. This passage shows us that God was working wonderful creative things, and we get glimpses of his creative purposes and ideas of what they were. We see reconciliation and peace, but there is still more; much more.

When we go back to John’s gospel, we see that throughout his story John is portraying God’s creative purposes as beginning and ending with Jesus Christ. Again, John starts by telling us, “In the beginning was the Word…” He ends by telling us that Jesus did many more things than what he recorded, but the world could not contain the books if they were written about all that Jesus did. I think this is saying much more than just items about miracles performed or lessons taught. I believe John is telling us that we are going to be learning and learning about the many things Jesus did that are not as obvious as feeding five thousand or giving sight to a blind man. We’re going to be learning concepts, notions, ideas, and thoughts that go beyond mere physical; concepts that lead us to other concepts that lead us, etc. etc.

We cannot box up the creative purposes of God through Jesus as being merely physical, fleshly and time oriented. They are more than that; deeper than that. The Psalmist, in his pained hungering for God in Psalm 42 expresses the thought that “deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls.” There is an idea offered that the deeper you go the deeper you can go and the deeper you are called to go. We start with a foundation and we build on that, grow from that and never come to a final brick. There is always more to learn and more to see. Boxing up God’s creative purposes into a few well defined parameters is just not reasonable, and perhaps impossible. When we think of the ideas of redemption, reconciliation, restoration and re-creation we see more than just physical. There are ideas, ways, uncountable blessings and a host of other things wrapped up in these concepts.

Look at these passages:

2 Cor. 5:16bff, the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.  16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

John 3:3-5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Romans 8:1-17, 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

As we examine these we see glory, and we are looking for Glory, aren’t we?  Every bit of it is found in the new creation or re-creation, if you will, and that is only found in Christ Jesus. 

New creation; Born again; No condemnation, these are all found in Christ. How wonderfully glorious this is, yet it is not merely (that’s a bad term) Himself He is showing us. There is more to Him than that. Remember, John tells us of Jesus saying, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

The last thing we should do with that statement is put limits on it. While it’s clear that Jesus was talking to us about the characteristics of the Father, there is more. He was also talking about the Father’s intentions toward us. The very term “Father” expresses ideas that fill our hearts and exercises our minds, causing us to look deeper into the heart of God. Clearly Jesus is saying, “What you have seen me doing with you is what the Father has intended from the beginning.”

In John and the rest of the gospels, we see Jesus living with us, among us, as one of us, fellowshipping with us, experiencing life with us and giving us life. He was held in his mother’s arms, nursed at her breasts, played with other little boys, learned carpentry at Joseph’s feet. Surely He smashed His thumb a time or two, and scraped his knees as He ran and tripped. Why would I think this? Because this is what we do – what I have done, and He is one of us. Remember Hebrews 5:8? “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered (underwent).” No parent can protect their child from every scrape, fall, bruise and heartache. We don’t really want to. Life is not perfect and our children have to learn to live in this world. So these things are teachers as well as we. I believe the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ allowed His Son to go through these very same things. Of course He did.

Ah, but look. Jesus did more. He spoke with the priests in the temple, ate our food, went to our weddings and wept at our funerals.  He was/is Immanuel – God with us. Hear this: GOD WITH US!!! That is what God always intended from before the foundation of the world!!  He intended to BE WITH US!!

I understand how people can think this absurd. Many who believe there is a God also believe that He just started everything, wound it up and set it out there, then removed Himself and let things move along as they might. Others think that He did go to the trouble of sending Jesus, but He got Him out of here as quickly as possible. But why should this be so? And why would He bother sending Jesus if He really didn’t want to have a close relationship with us?

Remember the angel appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary should not be put away, but that she was part of the fulfillment of promises God had made to bring the Savior into the world. He was told that the child would be called “Immanuel.” He would be called “God WITH us!” And God is the giver of life. He is also the sharer of life. Having life, but not life alone, rather He shares life with us. We, His children, share with Him the blessings He richly pours on us. Hand in hand with Him we share them. He is like the Father who takes his child to the Circus. They both watch, see the clowns and laugh, ooo and ahh at the trapeze artist and are amazed at the one standing up and riding the backs of horses. These are shared things, human things that we enjoy. They are also things that teach us how the heavenly Father shares life with us.

We sing…

”My God and I go in the fields together.

We walk and talk as good friends should and do.

We clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter.

My God and I go on unendingly.”

We sing this because this is what the Father is doing with us. And He is doing it in and as Jesus the Christ.

Everywhere Jesus goes, life abounds. John recounts the episode of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. This is a great example of the power of Jesus, but the message of Lazarus is not limited to, “See how powerful Jesus is.” Lazarus himself is a promise. His resurrection demonstrates more than power. Lazarus would say to us, “See! If he can do this for me, he will do it for you. He will raise you from the dead.”

Picture, if you would, a funeral and the dead man being able to walk among the gatherers seeing and hearing what is going on.  That’s how G. K. Chesterton presented Lazarus in his poem, The Convert:

The Convert

By G. K. Chesterton

After one moment when I bowed my head

And the whole world turned over and came upright,

And I came out where the old road shone white.

I walked the ways and heard what all men said,

Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,

Being not unlovable but strange and light;

Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite

But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give

That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,

They rattle reason out through many a sieve

That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:

And all these things are less than dust to me

Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Lazarus gets it.  All of the world’s things and all of its wisdom are nothing.  All that matters is life, but not just earthly life. It’s more than that. It’s the life that is found in Christ Jesus. But Lazarus teaches more than this.

Jesus stood at the grave. He saw all the people who were sharing in the mourning of Martha and Mary. Friends and family, neighbors and loved ones all gathered together so that they might demonstrate the blessing of shared hurts and the collective easing of pain. Jesus saw and He wept! The weeping was not just for Lazarus nor was it merely for Mary and Martha. It was for us as well. It was for all those down through the ages who witnessed the death of a loved one and felt the pain, hurt and heartache that came from those terrible moments. This was God saying “I hurt with you!”

These stories of Jesus that John brings to us are veritable wells of truth about who God is and what He wants for us and how He longs to be with us. They are about feelings of love and shared emotions. They are also about renewal and resurrection. This was demonstrated in Lazarus, but also in Nicodemus.

Back in John three, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” To put limits on what Jesus is saying here is a mistake. He is not talking merely of baptism as a “requirement for salvation.” He is talking about New Creation – being made brand new; a new start; a new beginning, and not just for the individual Nicodemus. He’s talking about the renewal of Israel first and then of the entire creation. These bodies, so full of sin and death need renewal and recreation. Jesus comes to us with that in mind and in fulfillment. He brings life. True life. And that life is with Him; holding on to Him and He to us.
Finally, John ends his narrative where he began: with an image of God’s creative purposes.  John says, “Just as day was breaking,” (21:4). Do not miss the power of that statement. John was not just informing us of the coincidental time of day. This was the symbol of a new beginning. It was the beginning of a new day; a new start! And what does John show us? He shows Jesus fellowshipping with his beloved followers; giving them life-sustaining food; and all of this on the brink of the greatest grand adventure.

This IS resurrection life.

And here we are living it.  Are we really thinking about it as we live it?  Picture yourself in the assembly on the first day of the week. There you/we are together; assembled; finding in Christ Jesus a great fellowship.  And as we meet we are defying the world and repudiating sin, both ours and the sins of the world.  We are refusing to hear the doctrine telling us that there is no God and we call out to the Lord as we assemble – “Jesus, you are the King of kings and Lord of lords.  You are our Rock and Redeemer.  You are the eternal, all-wise, all-powerful God.  We worship and adore you.  May your name be praised forever and forever!” All of this we are saying in the mere fact that we are assembling together. As the world, ignoring the awesomeness of the God of creation, lies in bed recuperating from a late night of drinking and partying or takes time to go jogging or goes out to a café for some coffee and breakfast, we are gathered together shouting to the world – “Jesus IS Lord!”

And this, all of this I’ve just spoken of, is why we gather together on the first day of the week to break this bread and share this glorious meal with our Savior.

At the beginning of the week,

·         the same day God began his creation –

·         the same day he resumed his creative activities in raising Jesus from the dead

·         The same day the church was established

·         The same day the apostles met with disciples to break bread

·         We symbolize the new beginning God has brought about in Jesus Christ.

·         In the Supper, the supper that we sometimes take so lightly and even callously, in that supper we eat and drink New Creation, because that’s what Jesus is and so much more.

This do in remembrance of me cannot, must not be limited to mere thoughts about His death and burial.  It’s more than that; it’s deeper than that; it’s eternally greater than that, even though that was a great and awesome thing and in that death our salvation is found, but it’s more than that! Of course it is, and Paul tells us that when we take the bread and the wine we are showing His death until He comes, but we are doing more than that. Jesus is more than just His death and burial and when we remember Him we must look at all that He is to see what it is that we ought to think of as we partake of this glorious meal.

I sometimes think of the time Jesus was sitting somewhere near the temple, perhaps in it, I’m not exactly sure. People were coming and making contributions. I’m guessing some did it with great fanfare, taking their bag of coins and holding it high so all could see and as they tipped it over to drop its contents a great clanging of coins was heard, drawing attention to the one making the contribution. The contributor would smile a humble little smile, acting as if he didn’t mean to do what he just purposely did. Then he would move on forward to one of the prominent seats that was always reserved for him.

In my mind’s eye, as I watch the contributors pass by, I see a thin, bent lady, wearing thread-bare clothing, eyes looking at the floor. She passes by the box where the offerings were collected and she drops in two small coins. There was no fanfare, no attention grabbing. She was a nobody, just one of the many nobodies that were passing by the box that day. She meekly dropped in her offering and went to the back to stand, hoping that she could hear the word read as the Rabbi or the priest took the scroll. It is my belief that only one person in the entire room that day even noticed that the old woman was alive and standing there.

Jesus turned to his disciples and said: “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:43b-44 ESV

In remembering this story I have it in my mind that Jesus sees me there in the assembly. He is with us all and paying attention to what we are actually doing. I don’t see it as “Oh, I better pay attention and act right because Jesus is here watching.” No. I see it as Jesus seeing us there, in all our weakness, with all our sinful moments and yet loving us as He watches us speak to the world: “Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord!”

If we don’t take the time to think about more than His death and burial we will miss so much of what taking the supper in remembrance means and the strength it gives. We will lose sight of the truths about Jesus the writers were sharing as they told the many stories of Jesus being with people and doing for them. We will miss the teachings offered in story form. We will forget about the relief the woman taken in the act of adultery found and felt as Jesus offered “Neither do I condemn you…” We will not think about how Jesus is with us in the weddings and funerals of our children and loved ones. We won’t really remember that Jesus wept at a funeral or that He saved a family from terrible humiliation when the wine played out.

Our remembrances must not be just about death, but about life and loving and sharing and laughter and even mourning. We look at Jesus in all that has been revealed to us and remember that the things done were not done just for them, but for us also. We see how Jesus was with them and we realize that He is still here with us doing the same things. He has not left us on our own to work it all out without help, but is here with us rather and He is working it with us. We do not have a death in our family or among our friends that He is not weeping with us.

Thank you Father, thank you Jesus, thank you Spirit for bringing these things to our remembrance, so that we can be the richer for it.

We know that in the thinking of Him and remembering the many stories we are made stronger and better able to face the coming week, for we have shared a meal with Jesus and we continue to share all week long.

Please, pass the bread!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Supper Two

Moms Dads and Death

The people of Israel were a storied people. They depended on their stories for faith, encouragement, strength and the will to go on. The many years spent in Egyptian exile were tolerable only because their fathers, mothers and grandparents rehearsed for them the great stories of Jehovah’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They heard that their father, Joseph, had been the second most powerful man in Egypt at one time and that God had put him in that position. They heard and believed the wonderful stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood. The promises had been spoken to them over and over again as the stories of the ancients were told and retold. They not only heard, but they memorized the stories so they could tell them to their children and their children’s children. In the stories was their hope.

How the stories were expressed or even embellished we are not told. As we read the scriptures we see only snippets. The accounts are not as complete as we would like. There are many details that are left to our “individual” imaginations. As you read the story of the Noah flood you may picture the ark as being built with a dark, rich looking wood, while I see it as a bleached yellow. If you read much about the wood and the word describing it, you will understand that there is no consensus and no one is certain what kind of wood the ark was made of. So your imaginative picture of it is just as good as that of anyone else.  You may picture the animals gently entering the ark in a quiet two by two processional, while someone else sees it a bit more chaotic, with quacks, roars and trumpeting so loud that orders had to be shouted and large prods used to direct the animals. City dwellers will see things differently and might not think of the problems associated with feeding and cleaning up after the animals, while the farmers among us will most certainly think of the great efforts that would have to be expended in order to see to it that the animals were well cared for. Our imaginations are not condemned by God, but rather are given by God and they are extremely useful in our study of the Bible and our hope for the future. Through the stories and our imaginations we put ourselves there sometimes as observers, at other times as participants. With our imaginations we make the stories rich and full, seeing truth and real life through them, and through them we get a clearer picture of God.

So as we look at the Israelites in their Egyptian slave condition we picture them through our mind’s eye and, often, even place ourselves in the midst of the story. We see the taskmasters whipping one who is old and infirm and unable to keep up. They beat him because he is not working as hard as they would like. Perhaps we see them beat him into unconsciousness and we long to jump in and stop the evil one. We picture ourselves as being empowered by God to overcome the taskmaster and put him in his place; perhaps beating him to within an inch of his life. We picture justice and salvation. As we read the story we even applaud Moses when he takes vengeance on the Egyptian.

With this in mind, imagine having been in slavery for over four-hundred years. Things would have gotten so bad that the Pharaoh was even telling the mothers and fathers, the midwives and his soldiers that if a boy child was born he must be put to death. If you put yourself in the picture, you watch as day after day your friends and neighbors have their babies taken from them and murdered; some of them right before their very eyes. You watch as mothers refuse to smile because of the pain of having seen their baby boy dashed against a tree or rock by taskmasters who care nothing for the people they rule over.

In the more mundane moments, you taste the meager food offered to you and the rest of the Israelites by the cruel Egyptians and your stomach turns. Day after miserable day you look heavenward for relief, but no relief comes and hearts continue to be crushed as babies are killed, old men are beaten and stomachs are only half filled with tasteless and nutritionless food. Your muscles ache because of the difficulty of the work poured on you every day; no weekends off; no vacations; no sick days! Though you glance heavenward those glances become less and less as the expected deliverer fails to show. You go to your home, dog tired every night and your grandfather starts to tell the stories. You frown. Eventually you stop listening, just turn your back and go to bed.

“Promises?”  You might think. “What good are unfulfilled promises?”

These kinds of thoughts are some that we all seem to struggle with from time to time in our own day to day lives. We find ourselves faced with a great trial and our first thought is to fall on our knees and ask the Father for help. What we want is for the trial to be taken away. The pain may be overwhelming or the grief or the loneliness. We seek relief asking, praying, begging, and even making deals: “Father, if you grant me this I’ll do…”

Day after day the struggles continue and somehow you manage to get through them, but you end up bone-weary and drained. It may just be that you fall into bed at night, not really to sleep, because what comes is fitful at best, but just to escape for a little while. You try to keep thoughts of the day out of your mind, but they creep in and fill your head so that even the respite of sleep is taken away. You rise early the next morning just as tired as when you went to bed and dread what the day before you holds.

We have a couple at church who have gone through just such a thing. They were a normal couple. Their two boys were growing, giving them good times, filling their house with laughter and joy. They were blessed with those holiday joys at Christmas time when the boys would wake early, begin tearing into the presents, whooping with laughter at the toys and pouting when some article of clothing happened to get into the mix. They enjoyed the birthdays, the candles lit and blown out – sometimes more than once, just for the fun of it.

They were looking forward to their oldest son’s graduation from high school. Of course it was mixed with a touch of melancholy; their baby growing up, becoming a man, and leaving home for college; these were all in their thoughts. Still they were happy that he was reaching the milestone of High School graduation.

As that day drew near, there was a change in their son. Slight, at first, then more pronounced. They were concerned. Wondering; perhaps dreading. The doctor ordered tests and then more tests. The joy of graduation ebbed and the fear began to seep in.

Lukemia! What!? NO! Please!! Dear God no! Please no!

Treatment started and the young man, just graduated began to face the great battle. Nothing was easy then not for anyone in the family. Mom and dad were trying to be there for their sick child and still be there for the one who was well. They watched their oldest as the treatments took their toll. He lost weight, was bone weary and weakened horribly. He was hospitalized. Tubes, needles, drips and medicines were now normal fare.

Mom and dad prayed and asked us to pray too. We did. Hundreds, if not thousands of prayers went up to the Father. The bulletins sent out to all members and former members carried their name and asked for us to plead with the Father for relief and healing. News spread to the other churches and many of them who knew the family and many who didn’t prayed.

“Oh God, who freed the Israelites and left the bodies of the Egyptian soldiers in the Red Sea; Oh God of all mercy, who offered your one and only Son to be the sacrifice for us; Oh God who raised the dead and took away the sicknesses and gave sight to the blind; Oh God of love and mercy, hear us.”

Daily prayers and multiple prayers daily were offered.

News came. REMISSION! Clouds moved away, the sun came out, joy filled the hearts, hugs were given and praise offered to the God who answered prayer. Soon their son was back home with them and when they brought him to the assembly of the church we saw smiles that had long been missing. There was rejoicing, great rejoicing as fear was replaced by hope and health. But it didn’t last.

The remission left as quickly as it came and the disease gripped him once again. During the next several months there were two or three remissions, but always, in spite of the bent knees, the promises and the prayers, the dreaded enemy returned.

The day came when the doctors told the family they couldn’t do anything more for their son. There would be no cure and hope was no longer an option. They knew what the Doctor said was true, yet wanting, wishing, begging:

“Please. Isn’t there something out there? Some new medicine? Something that you haven’t thought of?

I cannot look into the hearts of the mom and dad, but I can think that there were times when they wondered where God was. They believed He had the power. They had heard and read all the stories. Perhaps they were spending a lot of time in the Psalms in those very dark days:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
    You have given me relief when I was in distress.
    Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!   4:1 ESV


My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you

from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”   42:6-10 ESV

As I sat in the funeral and watched them, I could see their eyes red from crying, down-looking, even a bit hollow. You could tell that they were seeing, but not comprehending. They went through the motions, but their hearts were being buried with the coffin and they were left empty.

I can just imagine the faith issues they struggled with as they wondered where God was, why had He failed to answer? And yet, the next Sunday morning came and there they were. They walked in slowly, moving toward their usual spot. They attempted to smile as folks stopped them and offered condolences. They would nod and their eyes would fill with tears and they would move ahead, eager to be seated so they didn’t have to speak to anyone else.

We watched them as the worship hour began; the heartbroken family who had battled so long and prayed so hard and ended up with one child dead… that family...opened their songbooks and sang praises to God.

I don’t know if their faith was ebbing, but I do know I was made stronger by seeing them. Their faith through the trials must have made them stronger for they came out the far end with a greater determination to follow their God. I imagined them speaking much as David did when he knew his first child with Bathsheba was dead:

“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

And as I imagined this I was made stronger. Their trials, their pain, their heartache reached into the lives of many around them and made others stronger. How strange, how sad and yet how wonderful that their pain brought healing to many others. They, of course, are not the only ones who are living in odd/sad circumstances that cause us to wonder at the purpose and question the whys of this strange world. There are hundreds, thousands, even millions.

Imagine. You are a bit older in life, even have grown children. You visit the doctor and he tells you you’re going to have a child. At first you want to cry in disbelief! What?! Not at this age. No, no. Grandkids O.K., but not a baby of our own. Still, after a little while you come around and the excitement begins. This won’t be a bad thing. As we age we can give him or her more. We have most of our bills paid off and we have a little cash in the bank. The child will keep us young and we can see life brand new again through his or her eyes. With each passing month, the feeling of the baby moving in the womb, you and your husband laying hands on your belly feeling the baby move his arms or feet – touching life, new life, life from your own bodies. As your hands feel the movement you shiver with the sheer delight of it.

Joy increases and finally the day comes. You hold the baby in your arms and rejoice at the great gift given by the God of all grace. You and your husband give thanks, smile so much your face hurts and you can hardly wait to show him off at church. You are almost giddy! All is right with the world and those first couple of days of negative thinking, when you found out about the pregnancy are totally forgotten as you look forward to raising this brand new gift.

The doctor comes in and tells you there is a small problem. Nothing big. Just a little injection and it should take care of everything. A shadow of doubt crosses your face, but his assurances ease your mind. Permission given you wait to hold your baby once again.

Waiting. Waiting still. It’s just a little procedure after all, what is it that is taking so long?

Wait. Wait. Wait. Finally, the doctor comes in; face dark; head bent; eyes not meeting yours.

“It was one of those 1 in 10,000 or 1 in 100,000 or 1 in 1,000,000 it doesn’t matter the number! Your child was the 1 and all the others lived.

“Dear God in heaven!” You scream! “No. Noooo!”

Just one week after the nine months you’ve said hello and good-bye.  No weaning; no terrible twos; no first day of school; no trips to Silver Dollar City; no; no; no! All the plans and dreams and hopes…all gone. Crushed, you wonder why. Was there some purpose in this craziness?

Devastation, anger, doubt and a host of other feelings and thoughts bombard your heart and mind and you cry out over and over, “Where is God? Where is God? Where is God?”

This death business is too much for us. It’s too powerful. We cannot stop it or overcome it. So where is the hope? If we were God…what? I wonder?

As we meet together on the first day of the week, to break bread, we come face to face with the ones who are suffering such things and we meet them knowing that our own day will come. We don’t really know what to say. We are so afraid we will say something wrong or stupid and end up hurting them more, so often we say nothing more than hello.

We need to realize, however, that we are together in a purpose-filled assembly. Our hearts ought to be thinking along the same lines. We are thinking about death – its power – its destructiveness. We recognize that we are one loaf one body (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). And as we take the bread, thinking about Jesus dying for us, as individuals and collectively for us all, we are made stronger.

As weird as it sounds, we praise God for the death of His Son. His brutal beating, the thorns, the nails, the ridicule and the spear are all things we are thankful for. We think of His stripes and our healing. How can death, any death give strength, encouragement and healing? And yet…the remembrance of His death, burial and resurrection gives us hope for another week. And the deaths of these two children and the faith of their parents also fill us with hope and encouragement. It’s a great enigma this idea that someone’s death can give us strength, but it’s true none-the-less.

We look (our imaginations are extremely useful here) at the suffering savior, His beaten back, the spit on His face, the humiliation of His nakedness, the blood pouring from His wounds and realize that He made it and He came out of the tomb, having beaten death, our terrible foe, into submission. Now we have nothing to fear from death because it is only our servant. It now does our bidding and that is to carry us and our loved ones into the presence of the God of all glory. The young man and the tiny baby faced death, but he wasn’t a terrible enemy. He was rather a servant carrying them home. Their mothers and fathers knew and know this, and their faith shows us that it’s true.

We remember this, but we remember more. We think of the very fact that Jesus came to be one of us. We were created in His image, but He came in our image. He was born of a woman and lived among us. What a wonderful God this is. He demonstrates to us that He is one of us and then He takes on the suffering of humanity, sharing in it, feeling the anger of the ungodly, the pain of the whip and nails and through it all He overcame it!

Thinking of these things is part of the purpose of the Supper; to give hope and faith. We look into each other’s eyes and see God’s working. We hear the story repeated and we find strength. We pray the prayers and know that God hears. We look over and see the mother and father of the young man who is already in the arms of Jesus, we see the other parents who never got to know their baby and we say, “Yes. Lord. I see and I believe. They are examples of the great strength of your Son Jesus and we praise you for them as they praise you for Him!”

In passing the bread and the wine we realize again and again that we are not alone in this chaotic world, but we are with the one who is restoring all things. We remember His words in the Revelation, “Behold, I am making all things new.” The stories of these two families and of our Savior Jesus remind us again and again of hope and blessings to come. We think of their son and their baby and we shout out to the world, “We know they are not gone forever, for Jesus lives and death is on his way out!”

The supper is eaten, the prayers are prayed and the power and unity found in His death and theirs, and His burial and resurrection strengthens us for the coming week.

Dinner is served and we are made the better for it.