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Communion Meditations (2013)

Little Toot


Originally scheduled for July 14

The name Hardie Gramatky probably doesn’t mean much to you. In fact, you probably have no idea who he is. But many of you will know his most famous work. Especially if you are a grandparent of small grandchildren, you will be familiar with his famous children’s book, Little Toot. It was first published in 1939, and has sold millions of copies since.

The title character is a tugboat. It is a curious but common fact that writers — especially for children — can take an inanimate object like a tugboat and anthropomorphize it. Little Toot is still a tugboat, but he has a human face. Why do we do this? I submit it is because we’re not very good at understanding the feelings and emotions of a tugboat; but we’re pretty good at understanding the feelings and emotions of another human being.

A good story, you see, must have within it some conflict and suffering. If the main character is human or humanlike we can empathize with their struggles and their suffering. We “understand.” Think about that for a moment: you understand tugboats. At least, if you’re six years old. More than that, once our sympathy is invoked we cheer when the good guy wins. Further, we are cheered when the good guy wins. We’re human; we like to have our good guys be human too.

I mention this because, as you have been taught, God the Father is not a physical body. But all through the Old Testament we hear expressions like “the arm of God”, “the works of his hand” and particularly “the mouth of the Lord.” He uses these expressions so that we will understand him better. God took that to the ultimate reality in the New Testament; God became one of us — and not in particularly regal circumstances. He was born a poor boy.

This was not just an attempt to be nice to us. Jesus, like us, was obliged to face the ultimate destroyer of mankind: death. He did not come for a visit; he came to die.

He left behind the Lord’s Supper. In its way, it is a story too. And like any other good story it should be told, not kept silent. Like great stories everywhere it is simple for the simple but profound for those who are deep. Each and every one of us can understand it:

·         The bread is his body, which suffered and died on the cross.

·         The cup is his blood, shed for us, that our sins might be forgiven.

The six-year-old in me is cheered and encouraged when Little Toot becomes a hero. This story has a cheering end also — He arose; and so shall we when he returns. So we remember the conflict and suffering — and look forward to the happy ending.

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