In many and various ways I have described the great and grand mystery of the Eucharist when we are made one not only with those around us (a miracle nonetheless) but united to those who have gone before and, even more, to God and His eternity. We sing this in the canticle Worthy Is Christ when we sing of the Feast to Come even as we eat the foretaste and drink the cup of salvation. I suppose there are some who think of this as picture language. If it were only symbolic it would be awesome. Like our visits to the great paintings of the masters in museums across the world, we could stand before the altar and marvel at the sight of it all. But we are given more than a glimpse, we are given the taste of eternity. We are given the crucified and risen Body of Christ as our food and the blood of Christ shed to cleanse us from all our sin as our drink. Like the woman who begged for crumbs from the table or Lazarus who begged from the rich man or the man whose wounds were claimed as his own by the Good Samaritan, we are recipients of such great mercy from God that the unworthy and undeserving have a place at the Table, are given the food of the Kingdom to eat and drink, and in that eating and drinking to have our eyes opened to see and know the eternal future made present for us now. How great is the mercy of God!
Sunday after Sunday this miracle unfolds before us and, sadly, we too often greet it with the shrug of the shoulders and the sigh of boredom. Our lives are filled with the moment and so full of today that there is little room for tomorrow. Our plates are already too full. We hunger for nothing (except that which we need most of all!). Every week the Word must remind us of this and call us to repentance before we meet the Lord where He has promised to be present. Every week the bell calls the faithful to come. Every week the organ sounds the call to sing. Every Sunday we are cleansed in confession and absolution to receive the peace of God and share it one to another. Every Sunday the voice of the Good Shepherd speaks and we hear, recognize, and rejoice in its voice. Every Sunday we are bidden come to the feast, the good and the bad, come and be glad. Every Sunday we are enabled to respond with words and songs of praise and thanksgiving, with tithes and offerings thankfully and cheerfully brought, and with prayers raised in confidence that God will hear and answer with what is good, best, and salutary for His people. It is the entrance of eternity right here into the moment. In this moment we discover that it is not full but empty and that only God can fill it – which He does. He fills us and fills the moment with the future He has prepared and to which we have been called.
I was reminded of this by Pastor Gottfried Martens who addressed our convention last month. In an address on joy and thanksgiving he told the story of those who had been in darkness but are now in the light in Christ and who called us to see and know this deep and profound presence. The future is not simply ours in the future but is present here and now where Christ, the yesterday, today, and forever Lord, is. This is the profound immediacy of the means of grace. They actually convey what they symbolize and bestow what they sign. They are not pictures but a real reality into which we are thrust by the God who takes mere mortals and fits them for eternity. It is this we seek and this for which we pray as Scripture has said, may He who began this work within us bring it to completion on the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Next time you sit in worship and look at your watch or visit your phone or are tempted to nap, remember this. God is here, in this place, delivering to YOU His gifts sufficient for all your needs, within this Word of life and this bread which is His body and this cup which is His blood. Next time you sigh in frustration because the hymn has many stanzas or the Scripture appointed for the day is long or the pastor’s sermon seems to drag, think of this. The next time you are tempted to ditch worship for another activity, think about this.