Pastor Paul, Letter for November 5th, 2023
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
The song we sang gave praise to God for the gift of salvation. They didn’t fumble with
books or sheets of paper; they knew this song the same way they had sung it – by heart. I scanned the sanctuary in which we worshiped. Every single person – young and old, male and female, short and tall, those who were usically gifted and those who weren’t – filled this space with song. I knew neither the words nor the language. Yet, in the movement of bodies back and forth in a solid sway, neither the words nor language mattered. We were not just a part of worship; we were part of a movement through which the Spirit worked, all in service to giving praise to God for the gift of salvation, of community, and of life. I don’t remember how we did this, exactly, but we were ushered forward to receive the bread and the wine. We stood in a half circle, our arms outstretched, our hands cupped, our souls ready for nourishment. When I asked later why they didn’t have us stand around the whole altar, I was told, those who have died in Christ are gathered around the other side of the table. They are the saints who have gone before us.
We sang. We heard God’s Word. I’ll never forget this: both when we sang the Gospel acclamation and brought our offering to the altar, the whole congregation broke into dance. Even when we were invited to bring more money up front, for they collected offering not once but three times, the whole community danced. The sermon announced God’s movement among us in Christ in such a powerful way, we punctuated it with praise. The sermon continued for around ninety minutes. And the service itself was over three hours long. It was a blessing. We worshiped together – and sat in pews, yes, and on the floors, and in windowsills and leaned in enough to hear, to sing, to pray, to praise, and to receive Christ’s body and blood – we’re all Lutheran!
After worship, we went through the line and filled our plates with the goodness God provided. We ate, we sang, we talked, we laughed, and we leaned into how fortunate we were that God brought us together. We wouldn’t be together long – the other pastors from the Southwestern Minnesota Synod and I were there for two or three weeks because we were companions to the Southeastern Diocese of the Vangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa – but the time we had together was filled with grace and love and mercy.
It was also a time filled with grief: the area of South Africa we were in was at the epicenter of
the HIV AIDS epidemic. I sat one evening with a family whose oldest child had just died. The
family asked me to pray with them and to share the Lord’s Supper together, which we did. We sang
“Jesus Loves Me” – they in Zulu in a beautiful harmony; I sang off key, in English. We are glad you are
here with us. I both heard and said this repeatedly while I was there. We are glad God has brought us
together. We are glad God is with us. With each word of gracious blessing and gratitude, my heart grew
larger. I swear this is true. And out of the gratitude and grace, we grew to know and understand and
appreciate even more the gifts God has given us through one another. Looking back, I have a
glimpse into why the two disciples exclaimed that their hearts burned as Jesus met them on the road
to Emmaus after Jesus was raised from the dead and revealed this to these two grief-ridden disciples
in storytelling, in bread breaking, and in walking beside one another.
In those moments, grace and grief shared space with one another. They always do when
Jesus is around. Together, they spoke openly and honestly about the things they have experienced,
about the things for which they still long, about the hope for which they still hold out. We know
those conversations; we’ve had them ourselves. They also talked about the One whose death and
resurrection creates space: for them and for us; for then, for now, and forever. Amen.
In Christ’s grace and mercy,
Pastor Paul Lutter, Interim Pastor