By Rev. Deb Stehlin, Director of Evangelical Mission
“The body of Christ, given for you.” It’s more than a bite of bread and sip of wine. This meal comes with a promise: Jesus has given his life away as gift, freeing and strengthening me for whatever life might throw at me.
Real presence: I don’t think I’d survive the struggle without it.
Once, I was in the presence of two powerful women in Mexico, who were doing community organizing to make life better for their children. We were on the banks of a green river, flowing with contaminants from a nearby factory. They raised their kids 50 feet from that river under corrugated tin shacks. As they told their story, I pointed to a Quonset hut church with a big picture of Jesus painted on the side. “Tell me about that church,” I asked.
Think about the power of the real presence of Jesus that’s given at table after table after table each week!
The woman’s face clouded over and she shook her head: “They are not with us in our struggle.”
That prophetic statement has stuck with me. Even now, I wonder if people who walk by our churches say the same thing: “They are not with us in our struggle.” Whether the struggle is racial and economic injustice, the challenge of raising kids, figuring out the meaning of life, surviving the rat race – you name it – what do our neighbors say?
A struggle shared in a Jesus community is lighter. But it’s not just about suffering. Joy shared with others is multiplied. The birth of a child. A new job. Hearing, “You are in remission.” We were created to be part of community that embodies the real presence of Jesus.
I GET TO BE in a lot of congregations in our synod. I tell you, it’s the best job ever. Here’s why: On any given Sunday, I could hear the words of institution early in the morning, and then drive somewhere else to be at another table. One such Sunday, as I drove home, I marveled with God, “God, you have a lot of tables where Jesus gives himself away.” Think about the power of the real presence of Jesus that’s given at table after table after table each week!
Thank you for all the ways that your congregation listens to the struggles of your neighbors. I am grateful for the space you make for people to share their joys.
I thank God for the gift of real presence.
Each year rostered leaders throughout the synod gather at the Bishop’s invitation for two days of theological reflection, renewal, and relationship. This year the title of the Bishop’s Theological Conference is “Real Presence: With our neighbors, in our neighborhoods.” We gather September 25-27 at Cragun’s Resort and Hotel near Brainerd to dialogue about this “real presence.”