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.