I drive a lot, so I listen to books on tape. And I keep returning to Lord of the Rings. I’m finishing up again, and I noticed something I had missed before. Maybe it was an article I read comparing Lembas to the Lord’s Supper. More likely, it was the last year we’ve been having, and my own fast from the gifts of God while I briefly had the sickness. But something clicked for me.
When Frodo and company are on their quest, there are two occasions when they are in mortal danger (pursued by the ring wraiths, moving through Moria) followed immediately by long rests in Elven strongholds.
The descriptions of their time in Elven lands – the joy, the feasting, the respite, the recovery is, I am convinced, Tolkein’s thoughts on the church gathering to celebrate the mysteries. (What we Lutherans call “The Divine Service” or “The Service of Word and Sacrament”) Surrounded by foes, moving from danger into greater danger, all hope of survival or even completing the quest successfully cast aside, Frodo has a brief time in an ageless place to recover and be restored for the dangers ahead. In this time he gathers with friends old and new, loved ones long gone, and he feasts and is strengthened by these ageless ones who essentially live outside the concerns of Middle Earth, and whose eyes are already turned away from earthly things. Their sights are set on the Grey Havens, and the journey across the sea.
It’s obviously the Divine Service, and not even subtly so. But this time through it struck me with greater force how important our gathering together is. How significant the church’s work to those who are being saved. And how joyous are those brief moments in Rivendell and Lorien each week.
Pastors have noted that some states never mention clergy on their list of essential personnel. I’m not that bothered. I’m happy to be forgotten by the governing authorities. Let them overlook us. We need not engage in the power games of the age. We have our sights set on higher things. The church gathers to feast and restore our little hobbit selves for the battles in the world. As we gather, we are surrounded by the elves (saints) who live lives beyond death, waiting for the return of our Lord. We step out of time for a few minutes, are renewed, and then continue our journey.
In this world, it’s Easter. The darkness of the day of doom has passed, and we feast as those who have won a great victory, even though we didn’t do the winning. But we are given the victory, and the fruits of our Lord’s labors are available to us each Sunday to “strengthen and preserve us in the true faith, unto life everlasting.”