“Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign”…So Where’s the Real Thing?

The movie Stand By Me opens with a man (Richard Dreyfus) sitting in his car wondering if anyone has friends like they did when they were 12?  At 12 and through my teen years I had a friend named Eric.  Eric was a rebel, but a polite one.  His favorite movie was Easy Rider, but when he came of age, he didn’t ride around the country in a chopped Harley.  No, he had a Suzuki 500.  I rode on the back of that with him throughout the state of Kentucky.  Eric’s favorite song was “Signs.”  He would sing with great gusto the part about “do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign.”  Because of the “magic” of XM radio, I heard that song again.  It reminded me of Eric.  I could see him jumping up on the fence, as in the song, and shouting, “If God were here he tell it to you face/ Man you’re some kind of sinner.”  And then my thoughts went a completely different direction.

During my days as chaplain in the Army Reserve, I had an Episcopalian priest for a supervising chaplain.  In theological discussions he would inevitably say, “If Jesus were here today, he wouldn’t attend your church or my church.  He’d go to the synagogue.”  Don’t think Episcopalians have a corner on denying the immanence of Christ.  A leader in the ELCA denied, hopefully as a faux pas, Him even being alive let alone here saying some years ago in a public statement, “If Jesus were alive today…”

The 20th century poet, Sir John Betjeman, had it right when he said, “God was Man in Palestine/ And lives today in Bread and Wine.”  God is very much present today.  Holy Communion is not a sign of a God who is not here.  It is the God who is here.  Holy Communion is not a sign that Jesus was at one time here and instituted this Meal.  Holy Communion is the Meal where He gives His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine today.  It is not as one Lutheran (believe it or not) pastor had in his open Communion announcement:  Communicants are to treat the Bread and Wine “as if it is the real Body and Blood of Christ.”  No, that would make Communion no more than a sign.  We have plenty of signs already, and the song is right; most of them tell us do this, don’t do that.

But worse than even a “do this” or “don’t do that sign” is that little word “if.”  The man wonders if anyone has friends like when they were 12; the Episcopalian priest says “If Jesus were here today..”; the Lutheran pastor says, “If Jesus were alive today,” and the announcement asks communicants to treat Holy Communion as if it is the Body and Blood of Jesus. These are depressing if not deadly ifs.  At least the 1970 song “Signs” ends up with a confession that the Lord [not just the generic “God” many are content with today] is thinking about us.  “Thank you Lord for thinking about me; I’m alive and doing fine.”

Of course, in Holy Communion He’s doing more than thinking about me.  He’s forgiving, feeding, and freeing me regardless of all the “Do This” and “Don’t Do That” signs in my life.  Jesus is alive; Jesus is here, and He tells me I’m some kind of forgiven sinner.  He not only goes to my church, He comes home with me, so I might go home with Him.  Now that’s even better than a friend at 12, yet still I miss him.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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