With Hands & Arms Outstretched

She was standing on the side of the interstate, screaming, jumping up and down, as smoke poured from the car’s engine. There was a young man beside her, dialing on his cell phone frantically, and trying to calm the woman, but she continued to point at their car as she screamed. The car roiled in smoke. Flames could be seen through cracks in the car’s parts. The woman had her hands outstretched. She appeared as one pleading, petitioning.

In another location, I-85 headed north was locked down for nearly six miles. The vehicle (I was driving south), when I passed it, was overturned and burning. Then there were multiple vehicles behind it, having crashed into one another like dominoes of catastrophe. A Hispanic family stood adjacent to the state patrol cars, near the shoulder of the road. A platoon of children scurried nearby, bewildered. Several in the group had their hands outstretched–in exasperation or prayer, I cannot say which.

Maybe I’m imaging things, but there seems to be a significant increase in the volume and severity of automobile accidents recently. I’ve spent a lot of time on the interstates recently, going hither and yon. I was out of town today, too, but I got a friendly text from a peer with a message inviting me to join him and his family at their local church. I texted him back saying I was planning on being there.

When I pulled into the parking lot I was touched by the sheer beauty of the church’s architecture. I sat in my car for a moment, grabbed my Bible and journal from the passenger’s seat, and followed some others into the narthex. Greeters stood in the narthex, greeted all of us, offered us a bulletin containing the order of worship and liturgy.

I immediately felt a pull here. The structure of the church, the way you entered the nave, the way the musicians were off to the side, not on a stage like one might witness in a concert venue, the way the chancel was the focus of those gathered–it all moved me spiritually.

There was a prelude, a call to worship, Songs of Ascent, a greeting from the senior teacher-pastor, prayers of invocation, songs of praise, a baptism, a reading from the catechism and Scripture about what Christian baptism signifies, a time of individual and corporate confession of sin, more songs (of assurance, of God’s pardon, etc.).

I sat with my peer and his family about two-thirds of the way back in the nave. We sang. We sang together. The acoustics in the church were spectacular. I could hear the harmonies sung by members in the congregation. Sometimes I would just pause . . . and listen.

These guilty hands are raised, filthy rags are all I bring,

And I have come to hide beneath Your wings.

These holy hands are raised, washed in the fountain of Your grace,

And now I wear Your righteousness.

In front of me, a white-haired married couple sat near the front. They were probably in their eighties. I watched them both as we all sang. They raised their hands. We all continued to sing. The man rocked a bit in rhythm as we sang the chorus, which he obviously knew well. His wife had her hands outstretched as if she saw not darkly but in full. They were beautiful to behold as we beheld the God who has revealed Himself, the God who has visited His creation, and dwells among His people.

I have seen horrors this week on the nation’s roads–families weeping with their arms outstretched in exasperation, in cursing, in pleading, in petition. And I have seen saints with arms outstretched in praise, confession, in assurance of pardon, and in song. The God who is remains the same–unchanging, near to all who call on Him in truth.

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