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Communion Meditations (2006)

Railroad Trains (and Other Metaphors)

Originally delivered February 12

Most of us don’t read theology textbooks for fun.

God knows that.  So it is that the New Testament in particular abounds with metaphors, similes and life object examples—things which make the point clear by portraying it in an everyday sort of picture.  You will remember some of them:

· Paul’s dissertation on the whole armor of God was probably inspired by the fact that when he wrote it, he was chained to a couple of Roman soldiers.

· Christ’s parable of the sower and the soils would be familiar to the farmers of his day, and the gardeners of ours. 

· Those among us who have remodeled a house in any way can certainly see the point of the parable of the builders, the house upon rock or sand.

We continue to do this today.  If you will look back into a conventional hymnal with songs dating from the 1800’s it will not be long before you find metaphors about the sea and ships.  Haven of Rest, Lower Lights and The Old Gospel Ship are but three of many.

This persisted into the twentieth century, in particular to one outstanding picture before us:  the steam railroad locomotive.  If you have ever traveled on such a train, you know exactly why.  The rhythm of the pistons and wheels was borrowed by many artists; if you listen even now to Southern Gospel style music, the rhythm of that engine can still be found, often quite easily.  Older Christians will remember “Jesus on the Mainline” and others.

One reason we pick up such metaphors is that both the ship and the railroad engine mean a voyage—going someplace we have not been, or returning to home.  The picture is easy to grasp, and the preacher’s sermon easy to outline—for the Christian is a pilgrim in this world, on a voyage from sin to heaven. 

Have you ever thought of the Lord’s Supper in that light?  The elements themselves, bread and wine, are common enough.  Christ gave them new meanings while adapting older meanings to the same cause.

· We think of bread.  It is excellent nourishment, and adaptable in many ways (including some which involve peanut butter.)  It is the food of a mature Christian.  But please note that bread doesn’t last very well.  You keep needing more of it.

· We think of wine.  Wine is an excellent antiseptic (used for cleansing wounds in ancient times) and a reasonable anesthetic as well.  In contrast to bread, it keeps quite well for a long time.

There you have it:  nourishment for the soul, needed each and every day.  A cleanser and pain killer, which will last forever.  We need Him every hour; we will go with Him forever. 

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