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Some Sundays

Some Sundays are better than others. Every pastor knows this. Every parishioner surely knows this. Some Sundays the seats are filled, the music is glorious, the prayers and the stories and the sermons are crammed full of inspiration and provocation. Some Sundays there are unexpected divine surprises that catch you off guard and move you to tears. Some Sundays are incredible, and I am pleased with whatever contributions I have made to the worship of Christ.

And other Sundays? Well, not so much. Yesterday was one of those Sundays where about half way through the service I was feeling like it might have been better for our congregation if I had just stayed in bed. I botched a few transitions. My prayers seemed limp, formulaic, lifeless. The sermon that looked decent a few hours earlier when I pressed “print” seemed cold and impersonal. I could almost feel the confidence draining out of me with each passing minute.  I sometimes joke to my wife, borrowing OT sacrificial imagery, that I delivered a very imperfect gift to the altar of the Lord that Sunday. Yesterday felt that way. It felt like, rather than the choicest animal from my flock, I had brought a rather diseased and anemic offering indeed.

And then, we came to the Lord’s Table. And I was profoundly grateful to let Jesus take over for me.   I messed up a bit here, too, to be sure. I forgot that we were supposed to sing a song, I stood in the wrong place, I neglected to ask one of the deacons to have a small glass of juice for one of our dear members who struggles to dip the bread in the cup and prefers to drink anyway. But we were at Christ’s table. I could do no more harm. In place of words, there was bread, there was juice, the body and blood of our Lord.

As Mennonites, I don’t think we celebrate communion nearly often enough. We save it for special occasions like First Advent and Pentecost and Maundy Thursday and a handful of others. Our suspicion of more regular observance undoubtedly has deep historical roots, borne out of the seeds of protest that gave our movement birth. We would be people of the book—sola Scriptura, and all that—not people of lifeless, mechanical rituals. We would simply sit under “the Word.” And boy, have we poured forth the words. This was probably an appropriate response, for a time. I guess. 🙂 But I’m noticing many churches these days—even some Anabaptist ones—moving to monthly, bi-weekly, even weekly (gasp!) observance of the Lord’s Supper, making the table and not the spoken word the central part of worship. Maybe we are realizing that words upon words can get pretty lifeless and mechanical, too. Or perhaps we are just realizing that our deepest need is simply to be fed by Christ.

Among the last words that I said before inviting people the table yesterday were these:

This table is not a prize for the righteous or the orthodox, but a welcome for the hungry.

Yes. For the hungry.  You could probably not have found anyone happier than this guy to simply stop talking and welcome people the table of Christ yesterday morning. I am growing to love this table.  I love watching people make their way to the front, love watching them embrace these tiny little symbols of the cost of love, love watching them take and eat. The young, the old, the sick, the healthy, the weary, the broken, the beaten down, the doubting, those exuding vitality and joy. The human.  The hungry.

Yesterday during communion I was standing with one of our deacons at one of two stations. I was holding the bread and she the cup. I try to always look people in the eye and speak their names when I give them the bread: The body of Christ, broken for you, Pam, Nicholas, Ruth, Kevin, Mary… . Our community is small enough that I can do this. For the most part. But sometimes I just blank out and forget a name. Yesterday, whenever I forgot a name, I would find that this dear saint that was serving with me would pick me up and supply the name when they came to the cup. The blood of Christ, shed for you Sarah, Connie, George… It was beautiful and symbolic for me. No one escapes this table unnamed. And even if those of us entrusted with setting the table for Jesus manage to screw it up, to fumble and forget, Christ himself will pick us up—all of us.

And each one will be named and nourished by the bread of heaven.

——

Image above courtesy of Ruth Bergen Braun, taken at the table of Christ, March 1, 2015.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Natalie #

    Thanks Ryan.

    March 2, 2015
  2. sheidebrecht #

    Thanks again Ryan Can I just say we hardly have any words here that nourish our spirits, except our own readings. Its just rather barren of good words spoken, so your thoughts are always timely and needed. I grasped something new about communion I had not seen before, its typically has a mechanical feel to the way we “do this” , but hearing your heart as you invite people by name to the table is different, its celebrating in community remembering in community, pointing to the one who feeds us in community when you name each person, so beautiful. thank you. Peace in the journey Sherry

    March 2, 2015
    • Thank you for this, Sherry. And I wish you peace (and hopefully a few more good words) for the journey as well.

      March 2, 2015
  3. Beautiful note Ryan. I love your call to the table. Jesus said the same thing in Mark 7. Or Mark 6? To the legalists of the day.

    March 2, 2015
    • Thank you, Abe.

      Maybe it’s Mark 7 you’re referring to? “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Love this passage.

      March 2, 2015
  4. mmartha #

    Yes, lovely.
    I have never heard this done at the altar, but at the 1st Baptist Church, Jacksonville, FL, Dr. Homer Lindsay, Jr. would quote John 3:16 to indicate its personal application before the closing invitation to accept Christ as Savior:
    “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever , Vera, whosoever, Ted, whosoever, Ruth, believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

    March 2, 2015
    • Naming is a powerful thing, isn’t it?

      March 2, 2015
  5. mike #

    love the metaphor: “No one escapes this table unnamed”.
    This sounds like a deeply moving communion service among brethren.

    March 2, 2015
  6. being a part of your congregation is a gift Ryan. The gift of imperfection that makes it possible for anyone to feel comfortable in their roles at our church is a blessing. Thought you may have felt your message was anemic it wasn’t heard that way. being the parent of a restless child seeing imperfections in the worship mirrors the imperfections i feel as a mother some Sunday’s. I also agree that we don’t take communion often enough.

    March 4, 2015
    • Thank you for these kind words. I appreciate them very much, especially the phrase you use—”the gift of imperfection.” A timely reminder, indeed. It’s good to hear how things feel and sound and look from the other side of the pulpit.

      March 4, 2015
  7. Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel #

    Reblogged this on Faith Bytes: Elsie Spins a Blog and commented:
    Words and sentiments spoken right out of my heart.

    March 4, 2015
  8. Howard wideman #

    Juice for the journey. Jesus is real today

    March 9, 2015

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