Saturday of Lent 4

Jeremiah 23:9-15


I knew she was special when her husband, Jack, and she walked in the door. She was glad when they said, “Let us go unto the House of the Lord” (Psalm 122). It was there on her face and his, sweet man.

I thought they had come from another Lutheran church, but, when I asked, she said, “We were members here until the early 1970s. Our children had been confirmed by Pastor McCombs. We left after he died suddenly. We were looking for a church where we could grow spiritually. And so we went to a larger church and became greater students of God’s Word.”

When I visited their home in the Devon Park neighborhood, a large plate of Brownies was on the table and the coffee was on. The walls were painted with her murals. Shelf after shelf of books contained advanced Old Testament study materials including a number of them written in Hebrew. This was not your ordinary laywoman ready to lead a women’s circle or a children’s Sunday School. Here was a woman who loved God’s Word and for whom prayer was not a few rote lines at the dinner table or uttered nightly at bedtime.

At my first visit, Marie talked about how hungry she had been for the Body and Blood of Christ. The church where they had fellowshipped for years did not understand the Eucharist as the high point of Christian worship. When they communed, it was only a remembrance, something you did out of obedience but not the Lord Himself present in, with, and under the bread and wine. Marie said, “I realized as soon as I received Jesus, just how much I had been missing the Eucharist for decades. It’s the Passover right there. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I’ve been telling everyone what they are missing.” When Marie heard the Lord’s promise, she was joyful: “This is My Body. This is My Blood. Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

My wife has often spoken of the years she was away from the Lutheran church. She had been formed in the Christian faith by the liturgy, taught the catechism and been confirmed. She had been prepared to receive the Lord’s true Body and most precious Blood. And she did briefly and, thereafter, occasionally with her Lutheran grandparents. Because of a daughter’s loyalty to her parents, she had rarely received Jesus in the sacrament. In those places where His real presence in the bread and wine is not taught, the Lord Jesus is not expected to be. And, the words we use in worship still say what we do and don’t believe.

After my wife’s mother died, she visited our church one Sunday. She had been so devastated by that death and had received no comfort in a happy church dominated by the health/wealth “gospel.” Later, she described that walking into the high church liturgy, she was enveloped by the love and holiness of God. It wasn’t the sermon that gave the most comfort. It was receiving Jesus, truly present as He promises to be there in the Host and in the Cup for the forgiveness of sins. I remember greeting her the first time at the door after worship. There was pain, and there were tears in her eyes. She needed Jesus.

Every time Marie and Jack walked in the door, sometimes with assistance, their presence gave me joy. When I was preaching, I could see Marie in the first row to the left of the pulpit. I could feel her prayers and encouragement. And sweet Jack, who was losing his memory, might say out loud, “Amen!”

We have had some very significant deaths in the past year and in the first months of 2023. Having buried more than 200 here in the past 19 years, I often sense their presence during worship – that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12). The last time I communed Marie at home and said the prayers of the dying with her, I said, “You prayed for me here. Please pray for me until I get there.” She said she would.

Dear Father, thank you for Marie and Jack, faithful servants of the Most High God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put thirty-two pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box for the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.