My recent trip to the emergency room really put me in my place.
A few weeks ago, I awoke in the middle of the night with abdominal pain which I immediately self-diagnosed as a stomach bug. I was sure it was nothing serious and went back to bed certain that with some rest I’d be back on my feet in no time.
A few hours later, as the symptoms got worse, I shifted my thinking a bit: food poisoning. I was sure that was the culprit. I was beginning to question my cooking, but I was certain of my medical diagnosis. This was nothing that some self-care and fluids couldn’t cure, and the comfort of my own home was the best place for me.
As the 24-hour mark approached during the wee hours of the next morning, however, my symptoms were not improving, and my husband began to encourage me to seek a second opinion. I was in quite a bit of pain at that point but while part of me longed to find some relief, I still resisted the idea of going to the hospital. The hospital was for sick people. REALLY sick people. Surely the hospital would take one look at me and then send me home to make space available for someone who really needed help.
Eventually my husband convinced me and we made our way to the ER, but even as I sat awaiting test results, I could not help but feel that I did not belong there. All around me patients were being brought in on gurneys by paramedics. Machines were beeping ominously, and from the next room I could hear the hospital staff calming a clearly distraught patient. THOSE people belonged there. I just needed some fluids and to go home and rest.
A few minutes later, however, the ER doctor entered the room with some perspective shifting news. My scans showed a significantly inflamed appendix and they were taking me in for emergency surgery.
Just like that, it hit me: I most definitely needed to be there.
It turns out that I am not the astute diagnostician that I fancied myself to be. I had been wrong about my condition and VERY wrong about what was necessary to fix it and my ignorance and stubborn reliance on self-care had almost caused an even more serious problem to develop.
As I lay there shaking my head at myself, these words of Jesus popped into my head,
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”Jesus
One of the hallmarks of our Lutheran doctrine and liturgy is the inclusion of a corporate confession and absolution in our weekly worship. I’ve had non-Lutheran friends refer to this part of the service as “awkward” or “impersonal”. Some have suggested that corporate confession, because of its more general language spoken in unison, is a somehow more diluted version of private confession where I can “get personal” with God, detailing every way in which I have missed his perfect standard that week.
While I certainly agree that private confession is good, right and has its place, I see our weekly corporate confession a bit like my self-examination in that hospital bed a few weeks ago. As I stand before the Lord each Sunday, examining my self; my actions, inaction, thoughts, motives, and heart, I realize afresh that I truly belong there. That I NEED to be there. I realize that my sin requires much more that self-care and home remedies. I’m reminded that I desperately need the mercy and forgiveness that is offered to me through Jesus and ONLY through Jesus and I remember that he told us himself that he came for sinners in need of a cure that could be found no where but through him.
Then I look around and realize that I don’t stand in that place alone but surrounded by an entire tribe of Jesus followers who acknowledge that they have the very same need and then together we receive the healing words of the absolution as spoken by Pastor:
“Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins.”Absolution
Those words truly put me in my place, and thanks be to God, they remind me how I got here.
After my surgery, I was tired, sore, and bore the scars of the what had happened, but when anyone asked me how I felt, the only word I could find to truly sum up how I was feeling was, “grateful”. That’s not unlike how I expect that I will feel when you and I approach the Lord this Sunday and experience His grace and mercy once again. I’ll see you there!