“The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;. . .” Psalm 121
My father was an elder in the church, a watcher, a keeper, although I knew very little about what happened when he walked off to meetings on Tuesday nights. Most of what went on, I know, he was sworn not to tell, and some of it—I know this is true—he didn’t tell me because the knowledge would have hurt me. I was, after all, a child.
One part of his job, I remember, was tallying after communion. He had to meet with the other elders after the Lord’s Supper to tally who was there, who wasn’t, and who was purposefully not taking the elements, or—even worse, I’m sure—who might have been taking the body and blood even though they’d been barred. I have no idea what the elders called that little gum shoe reconnaissance meeting, but I know that they met.
What those elders were watching for were stories, the people who were coming to the table with a checkered past—or in process of checkering their presents. When I became an elder, nobody watched the sacrament that closely. Maybe I remember what went on back then because I knew that behind the effort lay stories I would have liked to know, what lies beneath the ceremony. I still do. Whatever the reason, I remember that he’d come back home late from communion Sunday worship.
That post-communion tallying—as well as my father’s own righteousness—may be responsible for the deeply-rooted sense I have that elders really should be Godly statesmen, dutiful, virtuous, and devout. And that conviction may be the reason why, more than any other elderly task, I always loved distributing elements myself when I was an elder, giving away the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It’s a big job meant for the kind of person who grows into the office of elder, having raised good kids and having been the spouse of only one mate, no messes in the scrapbook. An elder was someone not subject to the sins our mutual flesh is heir to.
Some years ago I was served the sacrament by two men who were once thugs, criminals—two men who, for many years, valued only their own skin. I took the bread and wine from people who, with impunity, cheated others, stole what they could to line their pockets, used drugs, and lived promiscuously. At about the time I began to understand why my father got home late after the Lords Supper, they were leaving behind a childhood they never had in a Southeast Asian war zone.
I know them. I’ve walked into their lives, year by year, even written their stories; and I know that those men—the men carrying the bread and the wine last night—were once so far gone in treachery that not a soul in the church where we sat could probably imagine some of the evil they’ve perpetuated. Who’d have ever thought that someday they’d be doling out the body and blood of Christ? Amazing.
But the promise of scripture, and the Word of the Lord, here in Psalm 121 is that “the LORD will keep you from harm—he will watch over your life.” And all during those bloody years in war-torn Laos, where those two men grew up, God Almighty, who loves us, had his eye on them as if they were fletching sparrows, even when they were lousy thugs, and probably especially then.
He knew them. He was watching them, keeping them from harm, when they—and we, all of us—were yet sinners. Those two guys fed me the body and blood of Jesus.
Amazing grace. What a celebration. Hallelujah, what a savior.