The Place Next To Us At The Altar: Meditation on Dying in Jesus for All Saint’s Day

Many years back I attended a worship service at one of our Sister LCMS congregations on All Saint’s Day. I don’t remember sermon at all, which always sounds funny coming from a preacher, but it’s true. But that doesn’t always really matter, I couldn’t tell you what meal mom made for me on November 1st, 1985 but I know she did, just like the countless other meals she provided for me while I was growing up. I just always knew she was taking care of me; same can be said of sermons, God is taking care of us. (Truth be told, we probably ate out J) But what really remained with me from that day was their communion service.

They served communion at the railing but instead of placing the insert in-between like we do at my church, they left it open and the parishioners received communion on one side only leaving the other side empty to the human eyes. What it represented for us was the reality of what occurs in our Christian faith that while we are dwelling in Jesus’ presence through His Body and Blood here in this world our brothers and sisters in Christ who have passed into glory are dwelling in Jesus’ presence as well through the sacrifice of His Body and Blood on the cross. There at that rail the whole communion of saints was acknowledged and represented those still dwelling in this veil of tears and those whose tears are being wiped away by the Lord himself, separated only by the thin veil of mortality but connected together indivisibly and eternally into the body of Jesus Christ that is His Church.

This year as my grandmother passed from this veil of tears to having all of her tears wiped away by the Lord Himself, I can’t help but think in this same way. Remembering, the countless times that I kneeled next to her at the railing to receive our Lord’s Body and Blood, connected together by family yes, but more, by family of faith through the body of Jesus. That each and every time I receive my Savior’s Body and Blood at the Lord’s Table my grandmother is right here, the place next to me at the altar.

When I say this, I want to be clear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that when Grandma passed into glory that she is “always with me,” or that she somehow became a whisper in the wind or a beam of moonlight or lives only in my heart. Is Grandma’s memory always with me? Yes. Does the beauty of God’s creation remind me of times I shared with Grandma in God’s creation? Absolutely. Does the love she gave me still warm my heart? Of course. But all of that is my perception and memory of Grandma, it does not give credit to the reality of the independent existence of the saved human being living in God’s presence eternally.

When I die, I don’t have the power or the inclination honestly to be a whisper in the wind or a beam of moonlight, why in God’s name would I want to do that anyways? It sounds poetic but in practical terms not very fulfilling. If I was to pass away soon, before my wife for example, I would want my wife to live the life she has been given fully, including getting remarried if she so chose, without having to wonder if I was “always with her.” Not that our love is any less, nor can I really imagine living apart from her, but the reality is we both do each and every day, we are not the same person, even as close as we are, but we have independent lives as well that need to be lived in this world till we don’t.

It is our own desires that come up with these kinds of ideas, but the reality is, we would not wish that kind of eternal existence upon the people we love. We wouldn’t want them to be trapped as a part of nature, or consigned as a silent, always watching but never participating existence chained to the earthly life we are living. We simply wouldn’t want that for them or for us either when we die. What we would like is for this blessing called existence that did not have to happen in the first place but is given to us so we can be in relationship with God to continue, in that relationship with God, living, growing, being who God has still called us to be, whether in the body or out of the body.

The Revelation of the Apostle John chapter 7 gives us a glimpse into just that, the independent existence of the faithful, living, growing and being in the presence of God. This vision, should be engraved on our minds and etched upon our tombstones, because for this brief moment the veil of mortality that separates those still living in the veil of tears and those whose tears are being wiped away by the Lord himself is pulled open and we have a blessed glimpse of the life the Saints in Glory are living, right now, at this moment, the reality of the independent existence of the saved human being in Jesus, living in God’s presence eternally.

“Therefore they are before the throne of God,

and serve him day and night in his temple;

and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;

the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.

For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,

and he will guide them to springs of living water,

and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

We are still connected, not by desire or longing or sadness or grief. We are not connected by one of us becoming a part of nature or dwelling silently around us but never participating in life. There is only, and only one place we can still be connected and that is only through the body of Jesus Christ that we are brought together by faith and the grace of God. The body of Jesus, which is His Church, which cannot be overcome by anything, even our greatest enemy, death itself, but just as Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Easter morning in victory over all of those things that separate us, we too in Jesus have that victory as well, a victory that brings us together that not even death can undo.

We are with Jesus in faith, our loved who have passed away in faith are with Jesus as well, so we are never far from each other. By myself, apart from the love of God in Jesus, I am not capable of this and neither are the saints who have gone before us, it is only in Jesus that we are brought together, through His Words and Presence and through His Body and Blood, here, the place next to us at the altar. Amen.

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