Sometimes Sunday mornings have me nearly in tears, and never more so than when our community of faith celebrates communion together. This morning was no exception.
My experience of communion (Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the table of the Lord) has morphed over the years. Raised Catholic until I was around nine, my earliest memories centered around that first “Holy Communion,” and my being gifted with a coveted Barbie doll at the post-ceremony family gathering. I still remember feeling a bit of envy that my sister, for whatever reason, had her first communion (as I recall) administered to her by my priest uncle.
After my mom converted to Baptist, we started attending church on Wednesday evenings as well as on Sundays (twice on Sundays, if I recall correctly!) It was there I was introduced to the little cups and fingernail-sized wafers that would be the sum of my communion experience for the next thirty-five years. Apparently I wasn’t the only one for whom this was all new. Someone in the pew ahead of us had brought her elderly mother that Wednesday evening and when the silver trays bearing little plastic cups were passed her way, she took one and quickly downed it and exclaimed in a loud whisper, “That’s not wine! It’s Welch’s grape juice!” Clearly, the whole experience left her wanting.
One church I attended observed something called “closed communion.” Three or four times a year, official members would be invited by letter to partake in communion on a Sunday evening. It seemed of utmost importance that only members were involved, and an accompanying sermon reinforced that principle. Imagine my confusion when I left for Bible college! The only logical thing to do was to join the sponsoring church, but that left me on the outside when I came home for the summer. Was I in or out?
It saddens me that one of the most beautiful symbols of our union with Christ was reduced to a meaningless ritual for so many years. Perhaps that’s why it’s all the more beautiful and holy to me. When I see a freshly baked loaf of bread on Communion Sunday, I’m filled with gratitude for those who rose early to prepare it for us. When we sit in silence together, examining our hearts and then praying a prayer of confession, I’m humbled. When I see members of our community serving one another, looking into our eyes and calling us by name, offering the “body and blood of Christ, broken for you,” my heart rejoices. When I see tears streaming down someone’s cheek, I’m compelled to pray for them. When I see little ones approach with their parents, comfortable in this thing we share together as the family of God, I’m grateful for these connections.
This morning’s communion came in the midst of a series called “Neighboring,” based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. We looked at the role of oil and wine that the Samaritan poured out on the wounded man. And we were invited to be anointed with oil as we came to the Lord’s table this morning. To admit our brokenness and our utter dependence on the Holy Spirit.
Communion has become this multi-faceted image for me. It’s Eucharisteo–where we offer our lives back to God in gratitude. It’s a reminder of the body and blood of Christ, broken and poured our for us. It’s the table of the Lord, where we commune with one another–a Sunday symbol of our Monday through Saturday invitation to do life together.