Every time I sing that phrase—in the final verse of ”The Church’s One Foundation” by Samuel Stone—I choke up just a bit. Those few words remind me of a sweet truth: By God’s grace, and because I am old now, I am connected to multitudes of folks like you! And what’s even sweeter is that I don’t have to wait for St. John’s vision in Revelations 7 eventually to come to pass. There is a “mystic sweet communion” going on right now, between me and those of you I name as friends.
But I really don’t want to write a theological treatise about the Nature of the Church. Instead, I want to tell you—all of you, I hope—that I still think about you. About our friendship now or back whenever. There’s something wonderfully, mystically true about these relationships that never goes away.
How’s that happen? In these later years of life, I find more and more prompts for pleasant memories—and the prayers that accompany them—about the wonderful people who have called me friend. Others’ personal mannerisms might remind me of you. Looking at a map—especially in detail—can take me back to the place(s) we worked together. Hearing a sermon that treats something we passionately proclaimed. Seeing your name in church-related publications. Finding artifacts of our friendship strewn around this home. Memes and themes we invented that are still around. And yes, obituaries remind me of the people on whose shoulders both you and I stood as beginners.
When those small memory-starters spark sections of my brain, the larger patterns of cherished friendships also come into focus. I recall how we met; how we plotted and planned together; what we laughed about; what we learned from each other and how we experienced mutual admiration. Sometimes the memories include a context: Mealtime conversations, a camp setting, walking together, participating in a breakthrough meeting, traveling long distances, writing/editing resources.
Some of these memory-restarting moments flit by, but still intensely. At other times, I take time to turn over and over these pleasant recollections, remembering scenarios and extended encounters. And every so often, your face and persona might become an unexpected part of a satisfying dream sequence.
In those times of mystic sweet communion, I realize that I have not forgotten you at all. Even after all these years and at this distance, there must be mysterious bits of prayer, chi, magnetism or Spirit-borne energy that lead me towards gratitude for you.
I haven’t forgotten you, and I’m pretty sure the same is true where you are. We are bound together still, even if we rarely communicate or otherwise offer evidence of the sacred trust between us. To say that another way: I still feel connected to you, even if only through these sacred memories.
Why tell you this? One sad feature of old age can be the feeling that we are not remembered, not regarded, not known—and thus all alone. In some cases that’s true; but in many instances, being disconnected from those who held us dear earlier in life is something we only imagine.
I would not want that to happen to you—at least not from my side of these long-ago friendships. What was important long ago has not turned to dust. What we worked on—what we thought was critical to the work of God in the world—somehow made a difference. What you taught me has not gone away. You are worthy of joy-filled remembrance.
“Mystic sweet communion” might come your way some Sunday soon. And when that happens, I hope that the lump in your throat will match mine—and that together we’ll continue to praise God that we’re never forgotten.