In 1986 Doug Frank published one of the most intriguing books in an outpouring of historical writing on American evangelical Protestants. Its title, Less Than Conquerors, inverted a well-known Pauline phrase popular in revival traditions on both sides of the Atlantic.
The sedentary Presbyterians awoke, arose, and filed to tables spread with white, to humble bits that showed how God almighty had decided to embrace humanity, and why these clean, well-fed, well-dressed suburbanites might need his grace.
The pious cruel, the petty gossipers and callous climbers on the make, the wives with icy tongues and husbands with their hearts of stone, the ones who battle drink and do not always win, the power lawyers mute before this awful bar of mercy, boys uncertain of themselves and girls not sure of where they fit, the poor and rich hemmed in alike by cash, physicians waiting to be healed, two women side by side—the one with unrequited longing for a child, the other terrified by signs within of life, the saintly weary weary in pursuit of good, the academics (soft and cosseted) who posture over words, the travelers coming home from chasing wealth or power or wantonness, the mothers choked by dual duties, parents nearly crushed by children died or lost, and some with cancer-ridden bodies, some with spikes of pain in chest or back or knee or mind or heart. They come, O Christ, they come to you.
They came, they sat, they listened to the words, “for you my body broken.” Then they ate and turned away—the spent unspent, the dead recalled, a hint of color on the psychic cheek—from tables groaning under weight of tiny cups and little crumbs of bread.
From South and East, from West and North they gather, on foot, by car, in rickshaw, tram, and bus, health, in wheelchair, in joy, in sorrow, relaxed, uptight, disheveled, and fastidious. They come, O Christ, to you, to taste the body that once for all was slain, to sing and pray and take a cup whose balm brings life from dying— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The words they hear when they have come together are chanted, lisped, intoned, or simply said and tell in myriad tongues with every accent of body broken and of life’s blood shed. Mere words convey a gift of perfect freedom, a debt of love that no one can repay, a yoke of new and welcomed obligation— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The spaces where they meet are huge, resplendent, or huts and hovels all but falling down, on Sundays jammed but often solitary, both nowhere and on squares of world renown. Yet all are hewn from just one Rock unbroken in whose protection no one is betrayed, which lets itself be smashed to bits for sinners— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.
The hands that tender host and cup are youthful, emaciated, worn, and manicured. They take so little time, they bring so little, to do a work by which so much is cured. These hands that bring the Savior near are icons of hands once torn in order to display with lines of blood the names who come receiving— throughout the world and somewhere, somewhere every day.