Communion is a joyful time at our church.
For so many years, I was used to a different way of celebrating communion. A somber, sober way. A stay-in-your-seat kind of way. A contemplative, inward-looking way.
Not that those are bad things. Communion — eating the bread and drinking the cup — shows forth the Lord’s death until He comes again. Death is a somber, sober thing. It calls for contemplation and looking inward.
At our church though, we walk to the front and receive the bread, a chunk torn from a small white loaf, with the words, “This is the Bread of Life.” Next, we dip our bread into the challis and hear “This is the Cup of Blessing.” The bread, now soggy with grape juice, must be eaten immediately, unless it is so large that it takes several bites. Children love this.
At first, I was critical of this method. I mean, really, everyone knows Jesus didn’t use leavened bread, I would scoff to myself. But the reality is that Jesus also didn’t serve wine in cute little cups that could be used later for VBS crafts. No, modern communion only recalls that Last Supper; it doesn’t replicate it. And that attention to the outward details is exactly the pit into which the Pharisees fell. What’s important is what’s going on in the heart. More precisely, for me, in my heart.
Once I set my inward Pharisee aside, I could laugh and enjoy communion. It’s a little chaotic. Children grin broadly and sometimes laugh when they are handed a large piece of bread. More than once bread has fallen into the challis. One parishioner’s guiding eye dog, not always in harness, but still in church, sniffs the floor hopefully for a few crumbs.
Yesterday, I went forward for communion. The pastor said, “This the Bread of Life,” and tore a piece from the loaf. I looked up into eyes that were warm and tender. This was someone who knows me and loves me. The young acolyte lifted the challis for me. His little voice was timid and sweet as he said, “The Cup of Blessing.”
Afterwards, as I sat in my seat, I thought about that last supper Jesus shared with His disciples. I’m sure He looked them in the eye and smiled at them as He gave them the bread. Maybe it was a little messy sharing the cup. I know for certain, though, that the love was palpable.
It reminded me of something Frederick Buechner once wrote about a communion experience. I’ll leave you with that.
… I was receiving communion in an Episcopal church early one morning. The priest was an acquaintance of mine, and I could hear him moving along the rail from person to person as I knelt there waiting for my turn. The body of Christ, he said, the bread of heaven. The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. When he got to me he put in another word. The word was my name, “The body of Christ, Freddy, the bread of heaven.”
…There was nothing extraordinary about the priest knowing my name — I knew he knew it — and there was nothing extraordinary about him using it in the service because he evidently did that sort of thing quite often. But the effect on me was extraordinary.
… For the first time in my life, maybe, it struck me that when Jesus picked up the bread at his last meal and said, “This is my body which is for you,” he was doing it not just in a ritual way for humankind in general, but in an unthinkably personal way for every particular man or woman or child who ever existed or someday would exist. Most unthinkable of all, maybe he was doing it for me. At that holiest of feasts we are known not just by our official name but by the names people use who have known us the longest and most intimately.
from Spiritual Quests: The Art and Craft of Religious Writing,
edited by William Zinsser
Food for thought the next time you partake in communion.