I am reading All Quiet on the Western Front with my boys for school. The writing is powerful and sobering, raising many key issues of life. One passage particularly caught my attention as an illustration of the church. After the narrator got lost in no man’s land after a reconnaissance mission at night he began to despair. The hopelessness of his situation is powerfully communicated. Then, in the midst of the darkness and despair he heard movement and voices. He realized these were his friends nearby. Then he states:
“At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear, they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades.
I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness; – I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me.”
This is the Church! In the midst of a fallen world, particularly in our dark times when despair claws at us, we need to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters, the ones to whom we belong and who belong to us. The ones with whom we have shared life and fears and joys. At various times, when our faith falters and our strength fails, it will be these voices which save us and stand by us.
But this only really works when there is a community of believes with whom we are connected, whom we know and by whom we are known. We dare not neglect this great gift of the church.