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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Not Alone

     “The watch feed went dead and Pete spun on his heel to march the other direction. He paced up the plane toward the cockpit, his features set and his heart heavy. Fifteen pairs of eyes kept glancing at him (seven of their rescuees were children, whose eyes were plastered on the tv, as they avidly devoured a Disney movie Pete had flipped on for them). The wiry old Akim, pastor of the small flock, stood up and offered the young man a smile as Pete spun around again at the cockpit door.
     ‘Come, brother,’ Akim said in Arabic, laying a hand on Pete’s shoulder. ‘Come, kneel with me and we will pray for your Jojo. And this brother you speak of.’ Pete blinked at him for a moment, obviously having to recall his mind to be able to understand the man. Akim knelt, his hand still on Pete’s shoulder, and the Parabaloni dropped gratefully beside him. Pete bowed his head with this old man he hardly knew, and let his overwhelmed thoughts speed out to the God Who knew all his sorrows and cares, however weighty or petty they might be, and listened with intense gratitude as Akim lifted up Jojo and Yousef, speaking the words Pete couldn’t quite bring himself to say out loud. Another strong hand landed on Pete’s shoulder. Then another, and another. After a moment he found himself surrounded by this small band of brothers and sisters, as they all knelt on the soft carpet and prayed for the Aziz family. Pete was overwhelmed. He let himself kneel there, and found every prayer was one of intense thankfulness for this gift of united hearts under Jesus’ cross. He only knew a few scattered names from this underground church. But they spoke his heart for him when he had no more heart to speak it himself, asking for salvation for the Aziz household, for safety for Jojo, for deliverance for Yousef’s soul…Pete let himself be overwhelmed and didn’t try and fight it.”

 –Scene from Chapter 4 of Running with SJ

I keep communion cups. Not from every time I partake of the Lord’s table, but I do keep them fairly often. I sit them on the dresser in my closet, and every so often my eye catches them. A little stack of old plastic cups. Most of them are from my church, obviously. But some are from congregations across the states, that I’ve had the opportunity to join of a Sunday. When I pull open my closet door, looking for something else, and see that junky stack in the corner it reminds me of two very beautiful things.

First, a warm joy fills me, speaking of a grace showered on my soul, a Father bringing an unworthy daughter to His table, and an unspeakable hope that flutters in my heart and tells me I will reach the marriage table of the Lamb. He has called me His own. “My God, my God, why have you accepted me[1]!” my heart cries out again when I spy that little stack of cups, and an overwhelming joy tells me that Jesus loves me. Like the old children's song. He really loves me! He calls me again, and again, and again, to sup with Him. To remember His blood and broken body, given up willingly for me at the cross. “I am the Good Shepherd: the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep[2].” One of the beloved flock of God Himself, trained to recognize His voice, and called over and over to His own table! It is a beautiful reminder. But not the only thing that comes to mind when I see those old cups.

Someone gives me those cups. A brother passes it to me, and bids me come to the table with him. A sister sits behind me, head bowed in prayer, silently offering up praises and petitions to the same Father I'm praying to as I sit, cup in hand. When my eye catches that strange stack of cups, it brings to mind the communion of the saints. All the people around me, praying to the same great God, Who not only deigns to hear our prayers, but commands us to bring our cares and sorrows and joys and delights to Him. Every time I take communion, in any truly Christian church around the world, I am surrounded by people with the same heart. Very divergent lives, and incredibly variant personalities, but people with the same destination and the same source to their joy. People with the same Father. It is a family table that I gather round of a Sunday morning.

     “Jojo Aziz had left home with the knowledge she might never again have a home in this world, at least not for years and years…And here she was, two weeks after landing in the West, surrounded by family and friends, all of whom she had a deeper bond with than any outward observer might guess. It wasn’t just that they had stepped in and risked their lives to save hers, and shared a rousing adventure with her already. That helped. But it was more that these three gathered here were the right kind of men. They were men who had been taken in their broken sinfulness and had their very natures twisted back round till they were right. Right with God, right with their fellow men, and right with themselves. Just like she had. It wasn’t a comfortable thing to admit you were fallen and broken from birth. But the aftermath of throwing yourself on a heavenly Father’s love, admitting nothing but grace could make you right again, was remarkable.
     As Jojo Aziz sat in that mountain meadow, laughing and listening to these three Christian brothers, she realized being made right did more than just save her eternally. It gave her this. Fellowship, in a deep, real way, with people from all backgrounds. She was flung into more than just her Father’s arms, she was flung into a new family. Algy’s greeting when he had first met her came back to her mind, and a broad smile spread over Jojo’s lovely face, though her eyes were tellingly moist. No matter where she went now, the world over (though some of them might be hidden away), there would be someone with this connection, someone she had a deeper bond with than mere common likes and dislikes. And at the end of her race she would come to a world where everyone had that deep bond and joy, with all tears wiped away and her Father’s arms opened wide…Algy’s words rang true in her mind, and Jojo whispered them to herself as her eyes rose to take in the rocky cliff side, a sprinkling waterfall tumbling down it, masking the Parabaloni HQ from obvious sight, and listened to the swift conversation and laughter of her brother and new friends.
     ‘Welcome home.’”

– Scene from Chapter 10 of Running with SJ

It is more than mere sentiment when we call our fellow Christians “brothers.” Christ has united us in a real, deep way. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another[3].” We are not alone as we walk this earth. It is both a highly encouraging thing, and a convicting thing. How many of your fellow Christians did you even say hello to in church this morning? How many names do you know in your own church body? How many families going to your church have you had over for dinner? How many have you bothered to ask, ‘What can I pray for you this week?’ We are supposed to be a body under Christ. We are meant to be working together. To be building each other up, and even to be helping in the material ways. Bring a meal. Offer a night of babysitting. Maybe just take the time and effort for a good conversation before you run off for lunch after church on a Sunday; you may never know how much a warm hug and honest interest in a brother or sister’s life may mean to them.

Never think you walk alone.

Christian, every time you come to the communion table, remember your Savior first. That is why you're there. To commemorate His shed blood and broken body, His love for you. But take a moment to look around you. So many souls, so many personalities, so many lives! All of them intertwined with yours in the ultimate goal of building a kingdom for this Savior Who died for you. Thank God, we do not fight this war alone.  

“For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia[4]!”

[1] “Mystery of Mercy” by Andrew Peterson
[2] John 10:11
[3] Romans 12:5
[4] “For All The Saints” by William H. How

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