Barbara Marquart Johnson
“There she comes now. She looks tired. Must have had a rugged week.” The two of them had been waiting outside the church door to greet Barbara as she came out to go home. Since she has to use a white board to communicate, many people are reluctant to hold her up to talk, but these ladies had been friends with Barbara for years and they were worried about her and wondered if there was anything they could do to make her life easier.
“O, now Mrs. Noland has her cornered. What are you going to ask her anyway?” Asked Sharon.
“Well, I’m not the only one. I hear people talking about why she cries when she takes Communion. It’s not any of their business, but if she is willing to discuss it, maybe we can comfort her some way.”
“Well, Silly. She has every reason in the world to cry. Good grief, she just buried her husband. She is dealing with ALS and doctors tell her she could die any time now. She cannot eat without choking, and she has been robbed of her speech. I think she has a right to be a little depressed.” Sharon indicated that Barbara was approaching, so they stepped forward to approach Barbara, just for a short visit. They understood she was tired and ready to go home.
“Lovely scarf there. Really great colors together.” And they both moved to take the visit out of the way of coming traffic. “How are you doing, Barbara? You know the Bible Study group prays for you every week when we meet.”
“That’s the only thing that keeps me going some days. So many faithful friends all around the world sending notes of encouragement. With so many people praying, I can hardly let up on my efforts.”
“Barbara, Janet and I were wondering, and you don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to. But we were concerned that you cry every week at the altar. Well, not every week, but very often.”
“O dear, I try to not be so obvious. Some Sundays it just comes and I cannot stop it. “She drew them over into the corner to avoid attracting an audience. “When a dear friend of ours died, a number of us from the seminary drove to Wisconsin for the funeral. We were alerted to the fact that it would be crowded and we should try to get there early so that we would be able to sit in the sanctuary. The family accounted for a large number, of course, but the Seminary choir had come to sing, and a number of out of state friends were there. Before we sat down, we went up to the altar area where the open casket invited friends to say their last good byes. Another colleague was there, and I overheard him remark,”Well, now I will start communing with him on the other side of the Communion rail.”
“Well, that picture stuck in my mind, and from that time on, when I received the Sacrament, I envisioned other loved ones who were there, on the other side of the rail. Texts from Scripture would pop into my head about all the heavenly host celebrating with us, and being present when we worship, etc.”
“Without trying, every week, someone who has gone on to heaven would come to mind. Sometimes they stand next to me. Sometimes, they stand behind the pastor who is distributing. After Kurt died, nearly every Sunday, he would be there, encouraging me in hard times.”
“That sounds creepy to me.” Said Janet. “The church never taught me anything like that. How do I know it’s not the devil?”
“I hardly think the devil would engage in anything that gave us as much joy as this does.” replied Barbara. “Sometimes it’s a relative. Sometimes a friend. Most of the time I don’t anticipate it. It just springs up out of nowhere. It’s as if they want me to know that I’m never going to be alone, and no matter how unpleasant this illness gets, no matter how difficult it might be to anticipate leaving my family behind, there are those who are waiting for me. It gives a meaning to the ‘communion of saints’. Suddenly, it does not matter if the service runs over by ten minutes. When we believe that the Lord is present in the sanctuary with us, it gives a whole new meaning to how we approach our worship.”
At this point, the white board on which she had been scrolling was full and she stopped to wipe it off. “Tell me this. When you come to church, as you sit there preparing for the service and look around at the others waiting, what do you see? Elderly couples. Families sorting out their junk in the pew, widows reading hymns? How often do you see fellow saints, children of God, adopted at their baptism, who at the end of life will either go to heaven or hell?”
“I see Christian friends, many who struggle as I do to keep the Faith.”
“Does the phrase “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, I am in the midst of them.” Come into your mind? Do you not believe Christ is there in our midst when we pray, sing and listen? If He is there, with His heavenly host, why is it so hard to think of loved ones who have gone to Heaven being there?”
In the old days, Church was the center of our lives. We came together for everything thing. We have so much competition today, and we have lost the intimacy that was once there. But Christ has always been there and will always be in our midst when we come together. In Word and Sacrament, He is in our midst, giving comfort, forgiveness, hope and strength to keep working in His Kingdom.
“Sometimes the tears you see are tears of joy from this realization. And I would love to think you can all have this.
Wiping the board again, she jotted, “O, my, I have to get moving. I’m glad we had this conversation. See you next week, and try to teach your family about the presence of Christ in our worship. It will mean so much more to them. It will not be monotonous. They will start looking forward to being together in His House, in His presence. Blessings on your week.”