Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Intimacy of Communion

This past weekend, I officially joined the church I've been attending. Whenever there is a new member Sunday at this church, the joining members participate in the service. This can be done in a number of ways including leading prayers, greeting people at the doors, reading scripture or personal faith statements, etc. One of the aspects of the service that I participated in was serving communion.

For those of you that didn't grow up Catholic, Lutheran, or any other denomination that uses liturgy, the way communion is served may be a little different. When I was attending Evangebapticostal churches, I noticed that the majority all served communion in the same way. The bread and wine would be passed out to everyone in their pews and the entire congregation would partake together at the pastor's prompting. I always liked the symbolism of the fact that communion was a shared experience. In all the Lutheran churches I've ever been to communion is served at the front of the church and everyone forms a line to walk up there as they are dismissed by the ushers. As each individual passes the servers they are handed a communion wafer/bread and told "The body of Christ given for you." They then either take a tiny cup of wine or dip the bread/wafer (depending on the practices of that particular church) and are told "The blood of Christ shed for you." They consume them both and return to their seats.

It had been a long time since I'd helped serve communion. I was a little nervous at first and asked more questions than were probably necessary before the service began. "Where do I pick up the bowl?...What station am I serving at?...What do I do if someone needs a gluten free wafer?...Is there anything else I need to know?...Where are the gluten free wafers again?" I could just picture myself dropping the bowl, forgetting the words, or having some other not so major incident during the process. Another aspect was concerning me that many may not think about. I would have to tell each person "The body of Christ given for you." I found myself worried that as I said that phrase more than 100 times in a row the words would ring hallow with no real meaning to me and sound empty to those who heard them. How does a pastor do that week after week? I imagined that the repetition would become mundane. It was a strange concern, I know. But I couldn't help but wonder.

The service began and before I knew it it was time for communion. I managed to pick up the bowl and make it to my station without dropping it, spilling anything, or tripping. Success. The line began to form and I soon found each congregant passing before me with his/her hands folded over one another, palms towards the sky.

"The body of Christ given for you."
"The body of Christ given for you."
"The body of Christ given for you."

One after another I repeated the phrase as I placed the small white communion wafers into their outstretched hands. I looked at each one as they approached. I've always been a people watcher. I like to see the variety of people that are gathered in a single place at any given time and wonder what circumstances caused their paths to converge at this particular time and place. One by one they passed in front of me: the cheerful elderly gentleman in his festive red and white Norwegian sweater, the somber middle aged woman, the young boy who nervously held out his hand as his mother encouraged him from behind, the older woman who grinned from ear to ear clinging to the wafer as precious treasure as she replied "Praise be to God." As I looked upon each face, suddenly the words I was repeating took on a new emphasis. "The body of Christ given for YOU." Each face appeared to me as if it were the only face Christ saw when dying on the cross. Each person that passed before was instantly recognizable as the one Jesus loves. At that moment communion wasn't just about a representation of communal salvation as I had understood it in previous churches. It wasn't just a corporate moment where we proclaim "Christ died for us."  It was a deeply personal and intimate moment. A moment where each person walks to the front of the sanctuary in faith and takes hold of a little piece of Christ and says "This one. This was done for me." A moment where each person claims the promises and hope of Christ as their own. "The body of Christ given for you."

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