Have you ever considered all of life’s milestones that were achieved by things fashioned of wood? Great sailing ships that captured the wind and brought countless pilgrims of the faith to these distant shores; bridges that span rippling brooks and mighty rivers and bring peoples of all kinds closer together; cathedrals with steeples pointing upward to the heavens and Gothic crosses that adorn regal rooftops; simple wood crosses atop country churches in rolling farmland — all of these are fashioned from the stuff of trees.
Wood makes up simpler things of life too: tables and chairs where families gather to celebrate life together; rocking chairs that have a bit of a squeak, perfect for lulling a wee baby to sleep in ones arms; fences that keep critters in and fences that keep interlopers out — all these things that benefit mankind come from a tree that’s been laid to the earth for such purposes.
Another very important wooden item is the altar. There are altars all around the world. Last Sunday as I knelt to take communion, I pressed my fingertips to the altar rail and suddenly felt connected with every saint who had ever knelt in that sacred place with folded hands resting on its beam, weeping in sorrow or weeping with joy. I felt keenly aware of the wood of the altar, of its very character: strong, yet porous, open to receive, timeless in its nature. I thought of how many hands had left their very essence there, how many tears were embedded within the very fiber of that altar: those of a young bride and groom kneeling there before stepping into a new life as one, those of the soldier entrusting his future into the hands of God before saying goodbye to his loved ones and journeying far from home to serve God and country, those of new parents vowing to raise their child to know God, and those of weary, broken-hearted travelers in desperate need of mending… each bearing their lives to the altar of God.
Many years ago, I sat in the choir loft and watched as two of the dearest people in my life made their way to the altar — my mom and dad. I don’t recall seeing Dad take communion ever before. But on that Sunday as I watched them kneel I wept for joy as Dad, near the end of his journey, laid his weathered, old hands on the wooden altar where thousands of saints had gone before him.
Altars are able to bear our weight and our burdens before the One who made a way for us — from the creation of a tree in the garden, to a manger in a stable, to a cross, to an altar where God draws us close. God has provided in every way. So I ask you, dear friends, have you knelt at an altar lately? Have you pressed your hands to the smooth, rich wood and felt eternity beneath your fingertips? Have you taken your cares, your hurts, and your joys and laid them before a Father who loves you? We all can, my friends, we really can. God waits for us there.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” — Matthew 11:28-29 (NIV)
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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