Isaiah 40:31

 By Rev. Ron Youngerman, Bishop's Associate For The Panhandle

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”  -- Isaiah 40:31

The phone rang. Our deputy sheriff said,
Pastor, I need you to come with me. Something terrible has happened.

On their way home from a baseball game, two of our local high school boys had been killed in a head on collision on a hilly Nebraska country road.
And we were on our way to break the news to their families.

On the way to break the news to their families, the deputy said, Pastor, can you do the talking. I’m not good at this sort of thing.

As we pulled into the driveway, we saw both moms on the front porch.
Once we got out of the car, they both knew.
Why else would a deputy, and your Pastor, come to your home together?

Their hands went to their mouths and both sobbed, No, No, No!

I took their hands and uttered the terrible news of the boys' deaths.

Also on the porch was grandpa, smelling of booze.
He poked his finger in my chest.
Well Reverend, he slurred.
Tell me, where is your God now?
His words just hung in the air.

This was the summer before the boys’ senior year in high school.
Both were getting ready for football season,
And a dozen other things you do in a small town high school,
when your senior class has only 12 boys and 13 girls.

I met with the families to plan the boys' funeral. 
Both boys sang in the school choir so the choir was asked to sing.
One of their sisters would read a poem she wrote.

But no matter what we planned, a fog of gloom hung over us.
Something was missing.

So, after the funeral planning, I went to the school auditorium where students gathered together to support one another.
No one seemed to know what to do.
What to say.
How to act.
But still they gathered at school, a safe outlet to express their grief and anger.

And there I ran into Gwen, a member of our congregation.
Pastor, are you OK? she asked.  No, Gwen, I’m not. Their pain is so overwhelming. And I’m not so sure I’m helping.

I told her about the funeral plans and how something was missing.
And she paused and said, You are going to offer Holy Communion.
Aren’t you?

Gwen, I’m not sure Communion would be a good idea-
what with all 5 local churches having different Communion practices.

And she said wisely, No, it would be a terrific idea.
Just what our community needs.
I’m going to talk to Saumbra and Rhonda.
And they agreed.

But I still had this uneasy feeling inside. I tossed and turned the night before. Was I up to this funeral task? Was it wise to have Communion? Were we making a big mistake?

Over 800 people overflowed the school auditorium for the funeral
in this small town of 300 folks. The kids sang and played their songs.
I read God’s word and preached.

And then came the moment when hope exploded into the room.

I invited everyone to come forward to receive Holy Communion.
Now is the time to be together and put aside our differences.
And share our pain as fellow humans.
We come from different churches, and some from no church at all.
But that’s OK.  For I am here to tell you this meal can start the healing.
Bring us together as family. Unite us around Christ.

The boys' families need this. You need this. I need this.

So everyone is invited to come forward as one people.
Receive Communion. Or don’t if you wish.
But come forward either way.
Let the healing begin.
For we are all in this together.

And come forward they did. All 800 plus of them came.
The Catholic priest came. Even Grandpa came.
Some took bread and wine.
Some didn’t and instead received a blessing.
But all of us were united in Christ in this holy meal.

It looked like a school auditorium. But it was really a cathedral of hope.

And here, here was the answer to Grandpa’s question.
Reverend, where is your God now?

Right here, sir.
In the body and blood of our Lord.
In grieving hearts being healed by Jesus.
In this community gathered as one in Christ.

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”  -- Isaiah 40:31


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