The Train And The Table

My wife and kids left for a ten-day trip to New Brunswick yesterday morning. It was hard on me. Part of me likes to think I’m tough, but when the people you love most leave on a transcontinental trip and you can’t go along to look after them, it hurts. I’ll make no apologies for it, though – if it didn’t, then I think there would be a problem.

Something that struck me on the way to church later that morning, though, was the trains. Our church meets in an older neighborhood bordered by the CPR tracks on the south, and is on the edge of the downtown with its light rail transit line. I never, ever in my life thought I’d get misty-eyed at the sight of a train, but I did.

Am I getting soft? Maybe. But here’ s the story behind it. I’m 29 years old and have gotten used to things like trains, but back when I was a kid I loved them. I had an electric train set, I drew pictures of them, I used to count the cars on the coal trains in the Crowsnest Pass when they went by. Since then, I “matured,” and trains became yet another (often inconvenient) part of the industrial landscape.

Until we had Caden. A son so much like me my parents looked at him and said it was scary how identical his face was. And he’s been in the “wide-eyed amazement” phase of his life since before he could talk. At a year old he was shouting “Airp!” every time he saw a plane in the sky – often well before I spotted them. And over the past year he has been obsessed with “choo choo trains.” He has his wooden Thomas set; he can’t go by a Toys-R-Us or Chapters without stopping to play with the train table, he shouts with excitement when he sees the C-Train go by as we drive. Every time we get in the van for a drive, no matter where, he declares, “I’m going to see a choo choo train.”

It was cute the first five thousand times; after that, it was, frankly, getting a bit annoying. Until he left, that is, and I was driving home missing the family. And then I see a “choo choo train” run by. I get that lump in my throat and I can just hear Caden yelling, “Look, Daddy!”, from the back seat. Except I don’t, and he isn’t – he’s not there.

Funny, isn’t it? If he had been back there, I would have rolled my eyes and maybe muttered some exasperated comment to Erin in the passenger seat, no doubt shaking her head as well. But he wasn’t, and in that one, painful moment, what I would have given to actually hear that little voice again!

Trains – go figure. But that’s what happened. And reflecting on it later, I realized that little Caden had given those mundane, everyday trains a deep meaning for me. Our relationship, father and son, had been impressed – emotionally – upon the simple, everyday sight of a train going by, and the two are now linked for me like Pavlov’s dog linked his food to the bell.

Sure, there’s some psychology behind it. I minored in psychology in university; if I actually cared, I could look it up and refresh my memory. But it made me appreciate the mundane for a moment.

Later that morning, my church celebrated the Lord’s Supper. It was a beautiful time; it followed the baptism of a young couple who God had saved out of a life of sin and path toward destruction. It has been so gratifying to see them grow in faith and start a family that seeks the Lord. And we celebrated Communion afterward purposely so that we could enjoy that special, sanctified fellowship with them after their baptism.

But what is the Lord’s Supper? Bread and wine (or in our case, gluten-free rice flour crackers and grape juice – excessive, mundane detail, right?). Talk about mundane! We see bread every day. I make “grape juice,” or some reasonable facsimile thereof, out of my freezer at home (bachelor for a week, remember?). These are everyday things. And while these elements, even the Supper itself, is supposed to have a deeper meaning for us, it’s so easy for us to become accustomed to them. So easy to treat them as just part of the Christian landscape.

And that’s a shame. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” I see that train now, I hear the bell and feel the trembling of the ground, and my heart longs for my son – and the rest of my family. In the same way, we should see the elements, hear the Word and taste the bread and grape in our mouth, and our hearts should long for the Son. Not just at the Supper, either, and that’s my point here – we should see the work of God around us, hear the Gospel preached and the Word exposed, feel the fellowship of the Spirit in the church, do the works of righteousness we are commanded, and in that our hearts should long for the return of our Lord. But do they? That Sunday morning, I don’t think it did for me, like it should have. Do I miss my Lord’s presence – a physical presence I have never experienced, yes, but one I should long for – the way I ought? What an irony it is, that the indwelling sin that haunts our hearts still as Christians can dull our appreciation of Christ  in the same way that it dulls my appreciation of Caden when he’s around. We don’t value Jesus like we should, just like I don’t value my family like I should. Until they’re gone.

God willing, Erin, Caden, and Cayleigh will return to Calgary in a few days. I eagerly and expectantly wait for them, looking for that Tuesday when they will be reunited with me again. And if I see that train tomorrow, I’ll think of them, and hurt a little. Until they return. You know where I’m going with this – so do you long for your Lord that way? Do you feel the pangs of separation when you see the reminders of Christ in the Supper, in the preaching of the Word, in the fellowship of the church?

I don’t. Not the way I should. But now, I do – a little more now than I would have, had I not visited the airport that morning. Praise God for that.

Thank God for the mundane, brothers and sisters. Can’t wait for the family to come home – but even more so, come, Lord Jesus.


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