A very moving story appeared in the local paper about a married, Christian couple who started a successful pizzeria years ago. Then she came down with multiple sclerosis. Their lives became very difficult as she grew worse, but their faith only grew. When she became nearly immobile, they began holding non-denominational church services right there in the restaurant with family members attending. Then word spread and others began to join them. Currently their congregation is small, but thriving and they’re moving into a larger space. But what jumped out at you in the article was what her son said about their gatherings. Commenting on the falling membership in churches around the country, he said he hopes to “reinvigorate people’s faith—we’re a relationship, not a religion.”
Isn’t that what it’s all about, when you come right down to it? And the point is, relationships with other people. This is what brought friends and acquaintances into their services in the restaurant. Her illness required support from others, spiritual support and physical support. That’s something we all need. It’s what I call the extension of the Sacrament of Death because it’s not just at a deathbed that we need to become caregivers. We all get sick, and we all need help when we do. Sometimes we get better soon, and sometimes they last a lifetime, but what doesn’t change is our need for courage to get through it, and our need for support when we’re weak and in pain.
Some may argue that as far as relationships go, the primary one is between you and Jesus or God or Allah. Some may call on the deity or on one of the many saints for help in these crises, and if that works for you, more power to you. But that still doesn’t change the basic need for human-to-human contact and the touch of a hand or a cheering word from someone at your bedside. The Spirit, or if you like, the “Hand of God” works through our fellow human beings and it is through human relationships– compassion, friendship, caregiving and caring–that we can provide and receive some degree of solace in these difficult times.
Some Christians like to remind us that the Bible says “only through Christ” can you be saved, and maintain that these humanistic teachings get us off the track. More on that later.