Crumbs and Stains
Yesterday was World Communion Sunday, a day when all kinds of churches from all kinds of places celebrate the sacrifice of love that unites us rather than the myriad petty walls that we are so determined to erect between us. Walls like, oh I don’t know, who gets to participate in the Lord’s Supper? To pick one random example.
I grew up with monthly evening communion services that were open only to baptized “members” of our church. I remember being a bit puzzled by these services as a child. Were these like secret ceremonies for the super Christians? Was this some kind of elite, clandestine Jesus club that had special rituals that could only take place under the cloak of darkness?
When I finally got baptized as a teenager and starting participating in this rite, I remember regularly hearing all kinds of warnings in all kinds of contexts about the dangers of “partaking unworthily.” The Lord’s Supper was often a grim and somber affair. I always wondered if I had repented comprehensively enough to be allowed access to the body and blood of my Lord, if I was approaching the table with right combination of reverence, penitence, and gratitude, if I was sufficiently cognizant of the horror and brutality Jesus had to endure for my sin. I recall being grateful for a place at the table, but my overall impression growing up was that communion was for some and not others, and that it was a very serious business indeed.
The longer I’ve gone on this journey of faith, the more utterly absurd it has seemed to me that churches of all kinds build their little fences around this table, restricting it to those who believe correctly, who have been baptized correctly, who have confessed correctly, who observe the ritual correctly. How utterly absurd that our participation in this memorial of the one who laid down his life for his friends and his enemies could ever be something that we have to earn with all of our correctness. I try to imagine Jesus himself at the table, saying yes to some but not others, telling anyone that his body and blood are not for them. My imagination isn’t up to the task.
At any rate, I regularly find it to be a strange, beautiful, and sacred thing to “preside” (a misnomer, surely, and a highly inappropriate one, if ever there was one) at the Lord’s Supper. Most of our worship services are highly word focused, whether this be stories or sharing or prayers or sermons. I pour a lot of my professional energies into coming up with words that might point people toward/invite people into the story of God. So many words. Words that drift past drowsy ears, words that confuse or frustrate, words that have been spoken a thousand times before, words that, by the grace of God, sometimes touch down and resonate. Words, words, words.
But during the Lord’s Supper, the focus is not on words. We hold out bread and wine to each other. We come with hands open. And we receive. The couple walking the road of cancer, the sullen teenager who blew up at his parents that morning, the busy professional already mapping out the week ahead, the one at war with their brain in the early stages of dementia, the overwhelmed and the under-employed, the doubter, the one whose cup of faith runneth over, the bored and the listless, the expectant and the joyful, the heartbroken, the ecstatic. We come. All of us, to this same table for these same gifts. And we are fed by the body and blood of Jesus.
One holy moment for me yesterday came near the beginning. A dear couple approached the table, she in a wheelchair due to the effects of a stroke, he behind tenderly helping her along. Yesterday, we were practicing the mode of intinction—taking a piece of bread and dipping it in the cup. But we always set aside a small glass of juice for this dear lady. She gripped the cup with two trembling hands and drank it all, right down to the bottom. A few drops spilled on her shirt, despite her husband’s best efforts with the napkin. We touched hands, looked in each other’s eyes… The body of Christ… the blood of Christ… For you. For me.
What a holy and beautiful image for all of us. We grab on to this cup for dear life. We drain it to the bottom. We hungrily devour this little bit of bread. And when we’re done, when our rag-tag processional of sinners and saints finally makes its way past the table, there are crumbs and stains all over the place. Christ’s body and blood all over our clothes, all over the floor, all over our hearts and minds and memories, to remind us of the one we are marked by.
During our service yesterday, I read this beautiful World Communion Sunday blessing written Jan Richardson at The Painted Prayerbook.And the Table Will Be Wide And the table will be wide. And the welcome will be wide. And the arms will open wide to gather us in. And our hearts will open wide to receive. And we will come as children who trust there is enough. And we will come unhindered and free. And our aching will be met with bread. And our sorrow will be met with wine. And we will open our hands to the feast without shame. And we will turn toward each other without fear. And we will give up our appetite for despair. And we will taste and know of delight. And we will become bread for a hungering world. And we will become drink for those who thirst. And the blessed will become the blessing. And everywhere will be the feast.