It’s a unique experience to be part of the same church for an extended period of time. Before Texas, our church changed several times due to moving. Now, I’ve now been a member of Heritage Baptist Church for over twenty years.
When you’re at a church for only five or six years, you don’t really get a chance to see who will rub you the wrong way. You don’t experience the pain of sinning against someone, or being sinned against, in the way you do when you’ve been in the same church with most of the same people for most of your life. You really only get to see the nice sides of people in that short of a space of time.
When you are able to stay put, by God’s providence, and you endure in a church, by God’s grace alone, you often see people at their worst and most immature. I cringe sometimes to think of the behavior some of my fellow church members have had to witness as I’ve grown up. I’m so thankful for their love throughout the years. But, that is the other side of the coin. Sticking around means seeing people grow up. It means watching saints learn to serve. It means seeing people come back. It means the opportunity to rub edges off one another. It means different levels of sanctification all fellowshipping together.
And, it means watching fellow believers die.
In our little church alone, we’ve had Glenn, Harry, Aunt Vi, Ron, and now Robert go home. Some of them went slowly with their family gathered round. Some went too quickly. We weren’t ready. Harry lingered for several days, never alone, always a handful of us gathered around him singing, reading, praying, just being there. Robert got his diagnosis and instead of six months to two years, it was less than two weeks. But, he didn’t die alone. Two of our ladies were with him.
These saints who have gone before are missed terribly. Something will catch the corner of your eye and trigger an old memory of one of them. You look for them, but they aren’t there. But we have hope. Oh fellow pilgrim, we have hope. We will see our brothers and sisters again. They are gathered together in heaven with Christ and they are waiting for us.
They have shed the last of sin, glorious thought. They have beheld our Savior, and they are together. Someday, we too will rejoin their ranks.
Being in a church year in and year out, Sunday after Sunday, unites you deep down because some of your dearest friends–and some who you didn’t really know well, but love–are up there. The people at work don’t understand this. Many of your friends and family don’t understand this. But that person in the pew next to you, they get it. They get the strange mix of boundless joy as one more saint crosses the finish line. They get the sense of longing you have for the rest promised in heaven. They know who it is you miss, because they miss them too.
Our church hosted another small memorial service for another small member. It was a different memorial than some of our others, because, in a way, Robert had shut himself off over the last few years. The memorial service included a confession of that, given to one of our pastors before Robert passed. He asked us all to forgive him, which we all freely did. Despite that, he was one of us, one of ours. We loved him and forgave him. Some of Robert’s family came, some friends from work, many we didn’t know. The gospel was shared. Tears were shed. Hymns were sung, and we few, we happy few, rejoiced to know Robert was in Heaven.