The Empty Spot At The Rail
There is a sense of individualism in American culture, one that has invaded how American Christians relate to one another.
There was a point in the Fall of 2015 when I just couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t take the endless fight against my demons anymore. I gave in. I gave into all my vices, and turned my back on the Christian faith (more about that in what I refer to as my own “Reynolds Pamphlet”). I won’t expand on the details of that situation here, but I wanted to finally put on (digital) paper something that my mentor told me. I had called him. The events of that week had turned my life upside down. The stress of school, the seeming lack of available friends, and this new person I met wore me down until I was ready to sacrifice everything that I had believed in for them. So I sat on the phone with my mentor, talking for at least an hour while I wailed and bemoaned about how lonely I was, how it was totally unfair my life felt and how I didn’t feel loved. I didn’t feel like anyone cared.
He told me, “Michael, of course you’re loved. I love you, your parents love you, and you know Christ loves you.”
I knew it. I just didn’t want to believe it.
I said, “Yeah, well that’s just all well and good. But I’m tired of fighting. I don’t want to fight anymore. I’m done.”
And I was. But what he said next was what rocked me to my core:
“Okay. Well, I still love you. And we will miss you at the Lord’s Table.”
The moment he said that I almost started crying. Now, for those Christians who are reading this that don’t quite understand what that phrase means, it’s referring to the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. The Sacrament of the Altar is where Christ has promised us that when His word is joined to the elements of bread and wine, He gives also His very body and blood for us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins. This wonderful gift He has given for the strengthening and uniting of His church.
Now, why did that strike such a chord with me? The primary action going on when the Lord’s Supper is being celebrated is forgiveness — that being God’s work. The Christian approaches knowing they are a sinner, rejecting their sin, and trusting in God’s promise that at the altar, forgiveness is given them again. Faith receives this good gift of God.
However, the celebration is not only between God and man, but also between the Christians gathered at the altar to partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper also has a corporate element, one where those who have been united to the “one body” and “one faith” in “one Lord” through “one baptism,” gather together to receive the one loaf and one cup. In Christ, by faith, we are one. So when we approach the altar, we approach it not only as individuals, but as one body, going forward and confessing that we are indeed sinners, but that Christ has won the greater victory over sin and death. The pledge of His body and His blood in the Lord’s Supper unites together in Him, preparing and sanctifying us in body and soul, preparing us for immortality with Him.
While I do think the Sacrament of the Altar unites Christendom across the board as we celebrate it according to the Lord’s institution, it is also particular to and unites each congregation. You should know the people in your church. They should know you. They are the immediate Christians with whom you are acquainted, the ones who should stand by and counsel you in times of adversity, even as you do the same for them.
I am a Lutheran, and my mentor is an Anglican, so we don’t kneel at the same rail every Sunday. However, his point in telling me, “We will miss you at the Lord’s Table,” was that not only will there be an empty spot at the “Great Rail” of faith, if you will, but at the rail inside Grace Lutheran Church — my church. The people I sit next near every Sunday and subsequently go forward to kneel at the Lord’s Table with would notice that I am not there. People should notice.
Would I notice? Would you?
We’re supposed to strengthen one another, encourage one another, lift one another up, but would we notice if someone was missing from the rail? Would we notice if the people that we sit next to every week suddenly disappear, if they lived without this thing of the Lord?
Do we know the people in our church? We should. We should make an active effort to know people in our church, not necessarily become best friends with all of them, but just to be aware of whom it is you worship with. The goal of the church catholic is obviously not to see those who are Christians reject the faith, but instead to preach the pure Gospel of Christ that, by God’s grace, we remain steadfast in the faith. Christians need to be showing love to all people, all Christians, and especially the ones in our immediate vicinity. The people at our church should know we love them, even as Christ loves us all and gave Himself up for us all. As we love our neighbors, especially our Christian ones, we demonstrate the love of Christ. We are His hands and feet. God Himself is grieved when hearts are hardened and go astray, shouldn’t we be also? Yet even as He loves those who would not come unto Him, so should we. People should know how much Christ loves them, and yearns for them to repent and believe. And those who are wandering astray in mind and body need to know that there is a place for them to come back to. They need to know that there is a place for them to kneel, beside you, and beside me, eating and drinking the death-killing, sin destroying body and blood of Christ unto life everlasting.
People in our churches need to know that they would be missed at the Lord’s Table.