On Sunday morning I preached on Gethsemane. I’m drawn to the Passion narrative like no other part of Scripture, and always count it a holy privilege to trace the suffering obedience of the Saviour in my pulpit ministry. In the darkness of Gethsemane Jesus was, surely, ‘made sin for us’, in the language of 2 Corinthians 5.21. In consenting to receive the cup of wrath, He was being overwhelmed by the horror of His separation from His Father, as His soul was being invaded by the sin of a lost humanity. He also felt the anguish that, a few short hours later, He would be consumed by the wrath of His Father, and would be broken apart in order to redeem His own. He cried, sweated, dreaded, and suffered there for us. Some sermons are so hard to preach, but do us so, so much good, and this was one of them.
We worshipped as we heard the Word. We sang songs and hymns which focused us upon the sufferings of the Lord Jesus for His people, and our hearts were led to the Lord’s Supper, which I was leading. I fenced the Table, and prayed, called believers to walk forwards to the Table to receive the bread and wine, and began to read Psalm 23.
I began, and then couldn’t continue. After verse 2 great waves of emotion smashed into me. I paused, for well over 20 seconds, then managed another phrase. Then another almost 20 second pause. I got my way to the closing verse of the Psalm and looked to the Table to see the last person coming up. Apart from him, I didn’t see a single person take the Sacrament, I was too blinded by my tears, and overcome by the Lord’s grace. I thought about that lonely, agonising man in the garden, fighting and praying for the stupid, selfish, double-minded man that I am. I thought about the same massive struggle He endured for all our fellowship at Hope, and for all the elect. A few moments later, as we tried to embrace a world of massive pain and suffering in our prayers, the waves of emotion were still rocking me.
Did I feel embarrassed at my tears? Yes, and no. I instantly thought of my poor children – they were embarrassed! One of the sweetest as well as the hardest things about ministry is having your children around you as you work, be that in and out of the study at home, constantly around the people you’re seeking to shepherd, and watching and listening to all that you do on a Sunday. Their dad embarrasses them enough, does he really have to cap it all by crying his way through the Sacrament?!
My embarrassment was more, though, at the thought of being a distraction to the people. The Lord’s Supper is our time together with the Lord. Pastors and other leaders can often be so intrusive, with our long prayers, endless Scripture readings, and other liturgical pirouettes. The Supper is simple, solemn, and, ultimately, deeply joyful. And it is the Lord’s. I for one don’t want to get in the way as a distraction to others in their devotions, through my own reactions to it.
And yet; we shout, cheer and sometimes cry about what matters most. I’m no handraiser in worship (though I am a fist-clencher and an eyes-tightly-shut-squeezer when I want to be). Reformed people are ever so good at claiming that all our emotion and heart responses during corporate worship are so deep and so sincere that they’re out of sight. Yes, maybe. Give me a good old hymn which stirs me to a silent, open heart, and I’m truly at worship. But always? I’ve been chocked while singing, and have seen the same in others. I’ve preached with tears before, and I’ve preached to tears. In many ways, I expect these things, but I don’t seek them, and I don’t work them up, in myself or in others. There’s no real embarrassment in expressing a heart-reaction to the Saviour’s love. We might, one day, realise that we’ve expressed our love to Him so little. Now that would be more than an embarrassment.