Friday, April 25, 2008

No Elbows in the Afterlife

C. Wayne Mayhall, editor of Christian Research Journal, tells this story:

Imagine you are in the center of a Great Hall in hell and spread before you is a banquet table loaded with a veritable cornucopia of earthly delights – a feast. To your dismay, however, the people seated at the table are emaciated, literally starving to death. You are wondering what could possibly warrant such madness, until the answer becomes quite clear. These people have no elbows! They can grab their food, but they can’t get it to their mouths.

Now imagine yourself in a Great Hall in Heaven among the feasting and fellowship of people who are obviously well-fed and happy. Here the sounds of singing and laughter fill the room, and here, too, you notice that these people do not have elbows. The difference is that here the people are feeding each other and the next tasty morsel is only the arm’s length of a friend away. (From Christian Research Journal, Vol. 30, No. 4, p. 3)
This illustrates what Mayhall calls “the insanity of selfishness.” I venture to guess that if the people in hell in this illustration actually did have elbows, then instead of starving, they would be jabbing each other in the side, trying to get to the food on the table before anyone else. And those in heaven with elbows would continue using them the way God intended ... to serve each other sacrificially.

Our Lord Jesus has elbows. And with those elbows he extended his arms on the cross, willingly sacrificing his life so that we might be forgiven of all our sins. His service for us was selfless and sacrificial. He bore our sins upon the cross. And his service for us even now is selfless and sacrificial. He continually serves us with his love and mercy in the Gospel and with his very own body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Because Christ has selflessly and sacrificially served us, we can selfless and sacrificially serve others. This will involve bearing each other’s burdens. Sometimes it involves sacrificially loving others even when they have hurt us or offended us. In other words, you have to sacrifice your selfish ego that wants to hang on to a grudge. It means that you seek to forgive when someone has hurt you. It means that you are willing to admit you have been wrong and are willing to receive someone else’s forgiveness. That’s sacrificial.

It’s so important that we do this with each other in Christ’s Church. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) And St. Paul commends the Christians at Colosse with these words: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” (Col. 1:3-5) The hope of heaven comes from the faith which we have in Christ Jesus, whose selfless sacrifice for us on the cross motivates our love – our selfless, sacrificial, forgiving love – for each other.

So use your elbows. Not to beat everyone else to the table. But to serve one another and in so doing, show that you love and forgive each other.

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