By Pastor Mark Combs
One of the things that we Christians have to face is the question of how do we deal with the reality of death in this world. It is a constant struggle for us, because of the fragile nature of this life that we lead. I point this out to you, because it seems that there are so many people who are mourning the loss of loved ones.
So, as Christians, where can we find our comfort? Of course, we know that our comfort is found in the good news of our Lord Jesus. It is no accident that we proclaim so directly this good news in our funeral liturgy when we say:
When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his1.
I hope that we all know the scriptures that go with these promises! There are so many verses that reassure us of this great gift of God. I also know that in those first few weeks after the death of a loved one, that for many, there is that collection of friends and family that gathers around to give support and care. Despite all of this, it seems that there are still an awful lot of people who are struggling in the grief they feel in the disconnection with their lost loved ones.
However, there is something that I think might help. We also know that one of the places that we come to for support is our church family. We know that when we gather together as the body of Christ, and most especially when we come to communion, we are at one of those places where God reaches out to touch us on a personal level. When we gather together at communion, we know that we are connected with our brothers and sisters in Christ around us.
There is more to that connection. I heard somewhere that the tradition in Lutheran churches of Scandinavian background is that the communion rail is in the shape of half of a circle. The reason for this is the understanding that when we are gathered around the altar to share in God’s feast, we are only part of the gathering. The rest of the gathering is “on the other side of the wall.” That is to say that the rest of the gathering is the saints that have gone before us, who are joining in the celebration in the kingdom of heaven. In some Scandinavian churches, this tradition includes the rest of the circle of the altar rail on the outside of the building, extending into the church graveyard, to complete the image of the gathering.
Now, I know that this might seem to be a stretch for some, but I also know that we proclaim that there is more to our gathering than just the ones in our local congregation. In the preface in the communion liturgy, the presiding minister says, “And so, with the Church on earth and hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn.” So maybe, when we are struggling in our grief of missing our loved ones, we might be well served to remember the places where the Kingdom of God intersects our world. We have a connection with our loved ones as we gather around the table of grace.
I hope that helps. Until next time.
See you in church!
1Burial of the Dead, Lutheran Book of Worship, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1978) 206.