Most Sundays, when I go to church, I’m alone. I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses to be sure, but still, I sit alone. We repeat liturgy, sing hymns and worship as a whole, but make no mistake about it, I am utterly alone. I walk in alone, and except for the occasional handshake or conversation, there is clearly some kind of force field around me that separates me from the others. My wife attends a church different from mine and my son seems to be against all things God. So, many times, when I walk in, I do so hammered with doubts and fears and all sorts of worries. I am a wreck, but here I am, by myself, except for my thoughts that never seem to go away, so I guess I’m not completely alone. Sometimes, in regards to my racing mind, I wish I were.
Despite some good teaching, what was difficult in my old church(es) was the emphasis, directly implied or not, on an experiential aspect of our relationship with God. It was practically a guarantee that God would move in you, show up, or give you a “sense” of His Spirit. Through two separate churches, I stood, prayed, and hoped that I would know God was there. I’d practice tongues, let myself be “slain”, have prophets speak “wisdom” over me, and listen for that small still voice for guidance. But, I got none of it. I heard stories of people refusing to be budged from their cars until God moved and I’ve seen the miraculous healings of utter strangers when guests would come preach. It WOULD spur me on in faith. Hands raised. Tears streaming down my face as I stood, kneeled, laid in front of the altar. Then hours later, I would storm out angry and cursing God, questioning my faith, because …..nothing.
Why hasn’t God moved in me? Why hasn’t something special happened?
This has been my life. Looking for something planted within myself as proof God is with me or maybe better said, proof I am with God.
This past Sunday, which was not unlike any other first Sunday of the month at my local Lutheran church, I found that something. I found that tangible evidence that showed me, His is there and He is with me. I held it in my hands. I twirled it within my fingers as I waited for the right words and the right time to take it. I prayed quietly as I waited, thanking God for being here for me-for giving himself up for me. I thanked him for the forgiveness that this represented. And then, alone in the small sea of believers, I broke Christ’s body in half and ate. And I knew. I knew he was present, I knew he was with me. I knew, not because I became emotional as I ate, but because I knew to look outside of myself, to what I was taking in. To Christ, who gave his body for me.
Again, with a willing desire, I took hold of the cup that held the blood of Christ. I looked at its red color. I saw it resting serenely, light reflecting off of it. I was reminded of Christ’s blood shed for me. I was reminded how it covered a multitude of my sins and will do so again. I thanked him for this offering, remembering how unworthy I was to take it except for the fact that Christ himself, who made me worthy to take him in and drink deep from this well. And I did. I drank and as this blood traveled down my throat, All I could think of is, “Here is Christ for me. In this offering, Christ is embodied. This great mystery summed up by Christ himself.
I found hope this day. Strength for what lies ahead. I found it in the body and blood given to me. As I continued to reflect, I know now that I can find hope in remembering that God pulled me under in the waters of baptism, as He himself washed me clean. I was a babe and needed to be washed, and even now, when I feel alone and far away from everything, I need to keep remembering it. It is proof of God’s promise to keep me His. This water, this tangible substance that washed the filth of sin away. It is proof of God moving, of God saving, of God being present in my life.
So, I remember my past and how I struggled to know God was with me and even considered that he wasn’t with me because of my sin and shame. It’s the only answer I had for not “experiencing Him” like everyone else. Sometimes, it was the only answer given from a pulpit, or a friend. I know now He was always there, in my baptism, to wash and seal me, and despite the arguments to the contrary, I believe he was hidden in the communion to strengthen me, though I didn’t completely know it or completely understand at that time.
Still, here I am, alone at church. Despite the crowd scattered around me, I am alone. I wonder if we all feel that way, whether with families sitting beside us or not. Here we are, hearing liturgy, singing hymns, scripture preached. In this moment, for this hour or so, it really is just each one of us and God. Are some like me, thinking and doubting, “Does it matter?”, “Is he really there?”, “I’m struggling so much. God show me You are for me, Show me you’re real…”
And He would say to you, “Take and eat. Here is my Body. Here is my Blood. Given up for you.”