A Message for Leaders from Jeff Ling
In the musical adaptation of Les Miserables, a grieving Marius wanders through the wreckage left by the barricade battle. Arriving in the pub that was once so alive with the dreams of revolution, he begins to sing:
“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone
Here they talked of revolution
Here it was they lit the flame
Here they sang about tomorrow
And tomorrow never came”
It’s a scene of such overwhelming sadness. The tables and chairs once filled with boisterous laughter and hope now lie scattered, broken and empty. Those that had raised their wine glasses to one another, toasting a vision of a new world, were themselves, those that escaped death, scattered, broken and empty.
“The very words that they had sung
Became their last communion
On this lonely barricade at dawn.”
Their last communion. That’s a powerful image isn’t it? It causes us to think of another “last supper” more than 1700 years earlier than the revolution in France. It was also a night that turned into a dawn of disaster with disciples scattered, broken and empty – their dreams of a kingdom restored – crushed under the withering sight of the crucifixion. At supper they had watched Jesus break bread and hand it to them – this is my body broken for you – afterwards he raised the cup of wine – “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Then he uttered something so stirring that their hearts could only be elevated with hope:
I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:29
They were certain it was imminent! The kingdom was coming. The Messiah was here! This was the culmination of the longing of their hearts. They were joyous at that moment.
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (v.30)
Jesus raised his glass with the revolution hungry disciples and sang a hymn.
Then the nightmare began.
At the barricade of Golgotha they were certain that the words they had sung were their last communion.
But they were wrong…
Hope did not die at Calvary. The suffering of Jesus and his triumph over death inaugurated a day of real and lasting hope.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4 CSB)
We do not sing of empty chairs at empty tables. We sing of a day coming marked by feasting and joy.
We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
‘He has done great things’ we will say together
We will feast and weep no more
– Sandra McCracken
Jesus set the very heartbeat of Christian worship in place at the table with his disciples. In the presence of their enemies he set a table for them. “Do this.” As often as they gathered they were to look back at that night, that death, that resurrection, that eternal promise! As often as they gathered they were to look forward to that day of freedom, of earth’s release from bondage and of the never ending feast of joy.
Where has that joy gone? Why have the hope-breathing, joy-stirring words and signs of Jesus been reduced to so many empty chairs at empty tables? Oh, we’re there. Surely, multitudes of the chairs are full but full of phantoms – empty of joy, warned that we may not be worthy, ticking off our sins in confession before we reach that solemn moment where we remember only… his suffering and our guilt. No wonder we only do it once a month, or quarter, or year. Who would want to go through that sad ritual as “often as we gather?”
What if the tables overflowed with the signs of hope?
What if the chairs were filled with grateful pilgrim saints, singing not only of amazing grace but an amazing future?
What if we weren’t scattered, broken, and empty but filled with joyful expectation?