Some memories set like concrete in our minds.
Learning to ride a bike on a bike that has no brakes. Dabbing my fingers in red paint and chasing my sisters around while screaming “Bloody fingers! Bloody fingers!” Crawling under the choir loft to play war after Royal Ambassadors on Wednesday nights. Those events set up memories early in my life that I’ll never forget.
While taking the Lord’s Supper recently, I saw again how early spiritual patterns are often the ones that sustain us later in life.
A man named Roger captured my attention because he suffers from early onset dementia. Roger is a faithful husband, father, and grandfather, but he is now in a season where his loving wife picks him up from a residential care facility every Sunday and brings him to church. He provided well for his family over the years and saved enough money to make possible his care.
Roger’s capacity is limited, his memory short, his usefulness waning. Yet every Sunday he shows up to worship King Jesus with a smile on his face. Always in slacks, a dress shirt, and a perfectly tied necktie that lands just above his belt buckle, Roger stands with hands clasped in front, moving them up and down to the sound of the music as he sings every word of every song.
After attending the first service, Roger stands in the back of the sanctuary during the music of the second service. His participation is never distracting, but never passive. He may have forgotten some things, lost a few skills and a few steps, but he hasn’t forgotten how to worship his great God.
As he took the Lord’s Supper a few Sundays ago, he was again reminded, if even for a moment, that God loves him so much that he sent his only Son to bear Roger’s sin and give him new life. Roger can’t volunteer in the preschool ministry and probably won’t serve popcorn at this year’s fall festival. But every time he sits down to take the Supper with the rest of us, he clearly, boldly, and victoriously proclaims the Lord’s death.
The apostle Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy: “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 1:13)
When Jesus first shared the Supper with his disciples, he was giving them something firm to hold on to—like a beam set in concrete. Jesus would soon be betrayed and crucified in their place. He wanted them not only to remember the sacrifice, but also to grasp its significance. Jesus was leaving, and other people, priorities, and persecutions would soon threaten the devotion of their hearts. But the Lord’s Supper was a handle they could grasp through it all.
Doubts would come, but they would remember. Dangers would come, but they would remember. Dissenters would abandon them, but they would remember that indelible moment when Jesus broke the bread and served the cup. It was a simple act, a common meal, but it would soon become their sustaining grace.
Roger’s memory is fading, but he’s still able to return to the old ways that shaped his heart in better times. As I administered the Lord’s Supper that day, Roger taught me that learning to worship Jesus early in life allows the Spirit to wash over me, as predictably as the ocean tide washes against the shoreline, to slowly transform my heart and prepare me for harsher days.
Religious routines absent intimacy with God rot our souls, but the faithful practice of corporate worship fueled by God’s Spirit produces enduring joy. Even on the days we don’t feel like it, we show up for worship. Even when we’ve lost our song, we sing through the tears. Even when our kids would rather do something else, we lead the way back into the community of faith. Even when the Devil accuses us, we reject isolation and unite with other believers to declare with our voices what we doubt with our heart. Even when our minds wander, we open our Bible, listen to another sermon, and take note of God’s Word to us.
Beams in Concrete
These corporate disciplines of grace are beams set in concrete. Singing, praying, standing to read Scripture, observing the Lord’s Supper, listening to sermons, giving tithes and offerings, are all ordinary acts of worship. These acts, however, don’t just train our hearts to hold on when doubt, disease, and discouragement move in; they hold us when our grip begins to fail. These mundane patterns of worship that we practice when life is good, when we feel strong and full of vigor, actually shape our hearts to keep worshiping when we aren’t as strong as we thought, when we discover we’re at the end of our rope, when our potential gives way to reality, when our best days on earth make room for better days in heaven.
So as long as God allows me to shepherd the flock, I’ll keep inviting people to gather each Sunday to practice ordinary corporate disciplines. I’ll watch them with a thankful heart knowing this labor is not in vain. Then I’ll pray for them, knowing they will soon be asked to trust God in private like they worship him in public.
When Roger came forward to receive the bread and cup, not only did he picture the good news of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection, but he reminded us all that God’s grace sustains us even when all we have is an old, familiar song to sing from the back of the room.