As we meet in worship, we find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share.
I might have mistaken the man in the pew ahead of me for an old grouch. He might have left no impression as we sang together. But then I caught him wiping away a tear. A line from the hymn did that to him: “When I appear before your throne your righteousness shall be my crown; with these I need not hide me.”
He does not know what he did for me, that man and his trembling lips. There’s a story there. I don’t know the particulars, but I get him. It’s my story too. I sing, “And there, in garments richly wrought, as your own bride I shall be brought, to stand in joy beside you” (Christian Worship 884).
The girl behind me doesn’t know what she does for me either as she sings these lines like a woman in love. We harmonize. She is the alto to my tenor though we’ve never met.
A shared peace
I worship in a charming college town, and I get to see all these bright young people filing forward so expectantly to the Lord’s Table. Jesus himself is seeing to it. These students of mine have no idea what they do for me, proclaiming his death one by one by one in that moving repetition and solemn parade of believers, with a shared peace lurking within.
We listen in on one another in our speaking the most intimate and personal things. “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” We carry one another through as we sometimes remember what we have done to hurt and what we have not done to love. And though we sometimes glance at our watches—we are not proud of it—we do yet have the grace to mean what we say and sing.
Now and then just look around. This is the body of Christ. This is us. Some say, “The church is full of hypocrites,” and as uncharitable as the charge is, it is true in its own way. But here is the view from inside. These people are flawed, not hypocrites. They silently hold to the promises God has written down for them in his Book. There is a quality in these people—their tears and smiles and holding on tight—that does not come from them. They are not of this world. Given the stark realities of sin and sinner, I am in awe. Lord, what you can do with a little bit of water, with only a few words.
A God who showed up
The point? Be there. We do things for one another just by being there. In a digital age, we need relief now and then from the habits of hyper-connectivity. We seek a Sabbath from those unfeeling ones and zeros. We gather in one place to offer one another the gift of our physical presence and our touch, especially at our family meal—his Supper.
I have come to believe that the church has a stewardship of the things that cannot happen remotely, even as the God of all there is became “God with skin on.” He was not at all content to love us from a distance. He showed up.
Nathanael once dismissed Jesus with his infamous “Nazareth? What good can come from there?” (see John 1:46). Someone has noted how this captures the posture too many take toward the church: What good can possibly come from there?
It is a sad irony. Everything people are most hungry and dying for in a cold, fractured, superficial world—true belonging, the freedom that comes with acceptance, an untouchable identity, a peace that nourishes and sustains—are all found in our sanctuaries as the community of the broken lumber in.
But here’s the rub. That “everything” comes wrapped in a scandal. Christ crucified for the world is the very “foolishness of God” and the only solution to you, to me, and to everyone. Something had to be done about us. The death of Jesus was the only possible answer for the sin that set God so infinitely far beyond our grasp and for the selfish pride and self-obsessed fears that wall us off from one another.
Left to ourselves, our egos always get in the way. Now Jesus lives that we may die to all such things. He is ever drawing us into himself and into the love that really is love.
Without him, we are alone. He draws us to himself and to one another—his family.
A common identity
This is a study in why I need my sisters and brothers. It is no small thing when you gather with me in the worship of Jesus and in the light of what he has done. You tell me that I am not crazy to hope in such things nor am I alone. You share the great obsession.
We keep one another’s company under the Big Fact that is our reconciliation with God.
You tell me the great I AM has taken hold of you too. In that moment, every human difference between us recedes. The one vital thing between us is Jesus, what he has done for you and what he has done for me. We know who we are. We are his.
Some cannot see what is really going on amidst all this Sunday fidgeting, behind the scattered yawns, or beneath the straightening of hair. But look around you. Listen well.
There is something else poking through the bland surface of things.
In the mute testimony of an old man’s tears, in a young girl’s song, and even in our own pale worship—thin stuff though it is—we may yet sense the sweet promise of the glory to be revealed.
At last and forever, fully and utterly, we will be us.
“God is here! As we your people meet to offer praise and prayer, may we find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share” (Christian Worship 858:1).
Read more devotions like this one from a new book by Dr. Mark Paustian titled Our Worth to Him: Devotions for Christian Worship. It’s being released this November through Northwestern Publishing House and is available for pre-order.
Hymns referenced in the article use hymn numbers from Christian Worship 2021.
Pictured above are friends Lanah Harry and Glen Spaulding. Glen completed Bible information class at Hope, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, without telling Lanah, who was already a member at Hope. On the morning pictured, Glen was baptized and became a member at Hope as well.
Author: Mark Paustian
Volume 108, Number 09
Issue: September 2021