“I’ve already heard it all.”
On those occasions when someone at my house had decided to play hooky from church, this was the justification. The very fact that an excuse was needed betrayed some guilt; and since several of us had been to church most of our lives, it seemed to make some sense.
Mike liked to say he was ‘born in the pew.’ As I know where he WAS born, this was a typical Mikonian exaggeration. I know that I spent my first Christmas in the Lincoln Park First Baptist nursery when I was 2 ½ weeks old. At any rate, together we logged a lot of Sunday School and church growing up. Then, we both attended Wheaton College where students were required to take 25 hours of Bible, theology, philosophy, and contemporary Christian thought. So, yeah, we thought we’d heard it all…mostly.
That has to pose a challenge to the man of God, the mouthpiece, whose task is to bring a word, a message, a thought, to the congregation.
But, if you believe as I do, it is not the messenger or even the surface message that should get us to those services. It is the Holy Spirit, that ethereal and very real portion of the Godhead that illuminates any service, if we come with even mild expectation and if we listen to Him. (I will ascribe to traditional roles here.)
I don’t know how this works with the unbeliever, but for the rest of us, we are promised that we are inhabited by the Holy Spirit so He makes Himself known, even when we are too busy, too tired, too distracted.
And so I find myself driving out to my home church on these snowy Sunday mornings. I’m a front-row parishioner…..they told us that the music is less loud down front and that seems to be true…there’s fellowship and music and that time for illumination.
Last Sunday, as I slipped into my usual place, the band took the stage. A man I don’t know stationed himself at stage Down Left and tuned his guitar. I couldn’t help but remember that this was Mike’s spot, another reason to sit close. Then, as the band began to lead us in worship, I noticed that his part was not so complicated….some nice chords and runs…and I realized that THIS would have been a place for Mike.
Few things made him happier and more nervous than being asked to play at church. He knew, and it was not too subtle, that he was the slow one in the fast group. Some of our musicians are professional and Mike was a plugger. When asked to play, he would camp out in his music room and practice and practice and practice. He would polish his guitar, make sure that he had extra strings and show up early for rehearsal. On Sunday play day, he would pick out something comfortable and not too uncool to wear on stage and arrive early for run-through. I could watch him concentrate as he played and then smile ever-so-slightly when he ran past a challenging measure.
He loved to play with the Oakbrook Band. He knew that he was serving the Lord and that he was using whatever talent he had to that end. After he became ill, the requests to play became less and then, as he kept defying his doctors, they picked up. His last time to play was about 2 months before he died.
Whenever he was up there, friends would pull me aside and tell me how seeing Mike made them so happy. I believe it reinforced the reality of God’s power.
So, I watched the band and the guy in Mike’s place. It was grand and a bit sad.
Then, one of our pastors approached the podium and brought the message. And I, who could say that I’ve heard it all, heard something new; God had a message for me on that day. I’m always pleased and surprised when I hear it again and I hear something new. This is the power of the Spirit; I live in a close consciousness to His presence these days.
And then our pastor led us in communion: in our church, both elements pass together. We partake as we feel ready. Communion unites the believers and I believe this is the first time I celebrated without Mike at my side. And that’s when it happened.
I held the cup in one hand and the bread in the fingers of the other. I prayed briefly and then put the elements in my mouth. And then I realized that I had been weeping, probably for a long time. Not sobs or wails…just streams of tears running down my face so quickly, I could do nothing to stem them or blot them away. The lights were down although I’m not embarrassed by honest emotion. I clasp the empty cup in my fist and saw that it was shaking.
Then, the wave passed, the lights came up and the service was over. I had met closely with my God, savored a memory, and cleansed myself of some sadness.
God continues to bless me and permits me to bless others. There is much joy and very little sorrow here. And, one little piece of grief is now past.