The Communion of Saints

She had come to see her pastor. To talk about something that was weighing on her mind. After the usual exchange of pleasantries, lighthearted jokes, and the welcoming invitation, she sat down opposite him. Though she wasn’t exactly sure how the conversation would go, she believed that in some way this was the man to see, the one who might offer some real answers, something concrete as she grappled with the future. 

She had planned to keep her conversation focused on a specific text from Scripture, one that she kept close to her heart, that brought her comfort. Though she wasn’t sure she was using it correctly, or if it even pertained to her situation. It must have caught her quite off-guard then when she suddenly burst into tears and began to speak publicly about things she had always been able to keep in the recesses of her mind. Her pastor didn’t seem bothered by them nor did he push for her to stop, he just listened for a while. 

When he did speak, they had a wonderful conversation about the Word and the promises of Christ. About the assurance that gives us hope amid heartache and fear. Especially the fear that comes when trying to perceive what tomorrow will bring. It is the unknown that feeds our doubt and despair and tends to freeze us in the present, in the known.

In the end, she felt better. She believed she had a better grasp of things, a better prospect for navigating the days ahead. To be sure, such feelings would be tried and tested in the living of those days. But for now, for this moment things seemed better, a little more clear, and along with that came a sense of calm. Before she left she said something along the lines of, “You have such a great understanding of the Word of God, thank you for taking some time to help me.”

But here’s the thing. That conversation didn’t flow out of some greater understanding of the Word in an academic sense. Sure he had spent many years teaching and preaching the Word. Yes, he had gone to seminary and been formally instructed. But most of what was helpful, most of what was a real blessing to her throughout the conversation was not lessons learned in the study, not learned in the classroom, but lessons learned from interaction with the saints of God. 

The experience of the people of God is a powerful teacher. The pastor’s ability to talk through hard and fearful moments grows from the times he brought communion to shut-ins alone and despondent in their residence. The many times that he heard a confession and prayed with a brother in the faith who was sure that he was beyond hope. It was the countless embraces of broken and terrified individuals. It is found in the bedside moments as a family gathers to say goodbye. There we find some of the richest and most powerful teachers of the faith. For in each one of these countless moments the Word of God was brought to bear. It was consulted, prayed, confessed, and at times, even sung.

These personal experiences don’t stand above the Word, as some sort of judge. Rather, they are the field in which the Word takes root and grows. It is in the struggle with the Word in our various lives that we find a common strength and hope as we are driven over and again to the proclaimed mercies of our God. Our hope and assurance aren’t just found in our personal study of the Word, but perhaps even more so, in the corporate struggle of the body of Christ.

And so, we confess, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”