by Rev. Jonathan C. Watt
When the telephone rang, I wasn’t really ready to make a hospital visit. Today had been a long day after a long night. I was tired. But I needed to go.
You see, she is 100 years old. She fell. “She may have broken something,” my caller said.
As I prepared to go, I was put out by not being able to spend time with my family— again. I put the Communion set in the car, checked carefully to make sure everything was in order, and fumed a bit over having to travel alone again. But as I said, I had to go.
The drive was quiet. I wasn’t in the mood for the radio. I wasn’t in the mood for noise. Silence fit my mood. I arrived at the hospital, found the room, and woke the 100-year-old.
She looked good. She said it hurt, but she was getting along just fine.
The conversation began slowly, but soon she warmed up. She talked about her long life, as she always did. And that’s when she said it. It wasn’t complicated. It wasn’t even that profound. It was just words I know I’ve said.
But she didn’t say that I said them. Instead she said, “I remember when Pastor Jehn said that you should say ‘the holy Christian church, the communion of saints’ together, because they are the same thing.”
Suddenly Pastor Jehn’s face popped into my head. Oh, I’ve never met him. In fact he died in 1951, 10 years before I was born. I know who he is, because he was the pastor here at Howard 100 years ago. He spoke to me.
No, I didn’t have a vision. Pastor Jehn’s words just crossed the pages of time through the lips of the centenarian lying in front of me. What he taught her stuck in her brain to be released to my ears over the distance of time.
Now, to really understand the impact those old (and familiar) words had on me, I have to back up a bit. As I said, it had been a long day. It had been a long week. You know, one of those weeks when you wonder if you really should be a pastor. I’d been mulling over, brooding over, things that just didn’t seem to go the way I thought they should.
Doubt is like a plague. But then she said it, or Pastor Jehn said it, “the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, are the same thing.”
“That’s what I teach,” I thought: The Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the life-giving blessings of Baptism and Holy Communion—our duties as Christian men or women. Pastor Jehn, that sainted man, 10 pastors removed, taught his confirmation class what I teach my confirmation class, and not just about the communion of saints.
St. Paul’s words came to me: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:1–6 ESV).
I saw, and understood, the communion of saints in a different way than I had ever seen it before. I had a connection to Pastor Jehn. We taught the same things. I am teaching the same things.
A few moments later my centenarian and I shared the body and blood of our Lord. Christ came to us there in the hospital room and brought us the gift of eternal life, just as He has for more than 100 years in Howard, S.D., just as He has for thousands of years for Christians everywhere and in every time. And the words sang out, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying . . . Holy, holy, holy Lord, God Almighty.”
At that moment we were united in one faith— in what we believe, teach, and confess . . . the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, Pastor Jehn, his 100-year-old pupil—and me.