Toward the end of the Divine Service yesterday morning, the EMTs walked through our narthex and hustled into the sanctuary, toward the pew where Jim lay flat on his back.
It had already been quite an eventful Sunday morning. We celebrated our Lord’s baptism in the Jordan River; I was privileged to read the Scriptures of the day; we watched as little Rachel Vonne, crying as she was washed with water and the Word, become a child of her heavenly Father; kneeled at our Lord’s altar to feast upon the body and blood of the God sacrificed for us. And now the paramedics arrived.
I sat, my son on my left, my daughter on my right. And I saw the church.
I saw the church, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, gathered around the throne of God and of the Lamb. The Lamb, standing, as if slain, has seven eyes and seven horns, and all prostrated themselves before him, harps resounding and golden bowls of intercessory incense burning. Flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder reverberated from the throne. And the seven Spirits of God burned as lamps of fire. And the people of Crown of Life, along with innumerable hosts of saints who have gone before us, sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!” Clad in robes of righteousness, they came to the Lamb, who fed them himself, the life of his veins, the body of his love. The heavenly hosts broke out in chorus when the saving waves washed over Rachel, bathing her in the mercies of the Father, and Jesus held the little child in his arms and blessed her with his own name.
And I saw the church, the Lord’s body, praying in one accord for their fellow believer, who struggled with the weakness of his body. Gathered around him were a doctor from our congregation, along with several nurses and first responders, all of whom employed the gifts with which their Creator had endowed them to assist their brother in need while we waited for the ambulance to arrive. The church was a hospital of body and soul. Little boys and girls, old men and women, and all in between, with lungs full of the breath of God, and lips red with the vintage of Heaven, mocked death as we hymned, “I Am Baptized Into Christ”:
Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!
When I die, I leave all sadness to inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes faith’s assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine to make life immortal mine.
The liturgy of worship blended with the liturgy of vocation, faith fed by Christ acted in love through Christ for one in need.
Yesterday I saw the church, being the church. Heaven and earth embraced as Christ and his Bride became one, while the pain and struggles of this world were not ignored, but confronted with wisdom and mercy and love for one in need. Prayers arose while healing hands were active. There was no either/or, but both/and, as faith and love did what they are.
In the end, all was well, as we prayed it would be. After a brief hospital visit, Jim returned home to rest. The congregation departed, carrying Christ with them into the world. And I drove home with my son and daughter, incredibly thankful to have seen the church in the full beauty of who she is.