On Easter Sunday our five year old granddaughter, Eloise, took her first communion at the Episcopal church where they belong and Tom and I are presently attending with them. She could have taken it earlier but she and her parents had really wanted it to be special and Easter Sunday seemed like the perfect moment to partake at the table!
Always before she would approach the alter, kneel, and bow her head over her hands, waiting for a blessing. Watching her do that was beautiful, sweet, endearing. The priest would kneel down, touching her head and bless this little angel. And from the look on the priest’s face, he thought it was a sweet as I, and the rest of her family always did.
This was such a routine on Sundays that on this Easter Sunday when she kneeled, holding her head high, and extending her open palms I noticed the surprise on the priest’s face as Eloise jolted him from routine. His surprise was quickly replaced with a grin as he gave her the bread of heaven. When the cup came by she dipped the wafer into the wine and put it in her mouth. What a special moment! Something the Episcopal tradition does every single Sunday, and yet, this particular Sunday seemed to me like such a momentous occasion as Eloise made this rite of passage in the family of faith.
On the way home Eloise was asked how she liked taking communion after all this wait.
“I liked the chip but I didn’t like the dip.”
She also told her mom that she had to ball the wafer up in her mouth just to be able to swallow it. When I heard this I realized I too usually have to maneuver it around a bit before I can swallow those dry cardboard like discs. Why do we grownups lose this level of transparent honesty?
I’m not sure if Eloise is all that excited about taking communion now. Not sure if it was all she had built it up to be in her mind. It occurs to me that many things in life are like that. How often the anticipation is greater than the actual event.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot since Easter. The big feast of God, a central point of our Christian worship. The coming to the table in remembrance and celebration of the sacrificial love of Christ until he comes again. The participating together of this beautiful body of love. Shouldn’t an event of this proportion be greater than what we imagine? Every single time?
One of the things I was most looking forward to in being ordained as a Presbyterian Minister of Word and Sacrament was being able to preside over communion. To be able to tell the story of the night Jesus was betrayed when he shared a simple meal with his disciples, one that was steeped in eternal love and significance. The anticipation of being able to do that paled compared to the worshipful experience it has been to actually be able to share this moment with a congregation. Or, with a group at a retreat. Or, anytime I get the chance to serve “the meal”.
Not long ago, the Thursday study group I have mentioned before changed meeting locations for one meeting from my house to the home of our beloved friend who has been fighting pancreatic cancer for over a year now. I’ve told you about her before. How she loves to dance. How she didn’t let a little chemo bag and bald head keep her from coming to our group. She has been an inspiration of joy in the face of difficulty for all of us. Since she had also suffered a major stroke recently and was unable to move the left side of her body she invited us all to her house for this particular Thursday so that she could be a part of the study that day. When I got there her sister had taken care of everything that this woman would have normally done, coffee and cookies, served on china. We were all touched at the generous hospitality she showed us. We all sensed this was a significant and bittersweet moment for the group, and no one took it for granted.
I’d had a last minute thought on the way to her house that we should celebrate communion together. So, I’d stopped at the grocery store for Hawaiian bread (because I was determined it should taste sweet not pasty), grape juice (like a good Presbyterian, although I debated myself on this) and dixie cups. The kind you put in a child’s bathroom for them to use when brushing their teeth.
I was clumsy as I presided over and served this meal but it may have been the most significant communion in my ministry history. We were gathered, Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and NonDenominational. Gathered in the love of Christ. And, the love of our friend. And, everyone partook! Our hostess said something about how it had tasted good, and how it should taste good. Truer words were never spoken.
It will be a long time, maybe never, before I don’t think of her when I take communion. She’s on hospice now and is on the suffering road home. I went to see her yesterday to pray for her but she was too sick when I got there. I prayed with her husband. Most likely I won’t be able to see her again. But, I will always see her in my heart.
The thing is, she is right. It should taste good! It should be a feast like no other. I’ve always thought this but I’m convinced more than ever now.
I used to lead a communion and prayer service on Wednesday evenings at one church where I served. I got this hair brained idea that I would try a different kind of bread each week. One week cheese bread. Another week challa (Jewish ceremonial bread). One week it was rye, which was a bit of a mistake as it got stuck in some peoples’ throats. People were patient with me. But,the point was, I thought our communal experience of God’s grace should be something with taste. Something to satisfy hunger, both physical and spiritual.
At another church I served, one Sunday the person responsible for bringing the elements forgot to bring the bread. She was regretful and nervous to tell me. We were having a luncheon that day so I asked what we had available. Someone had brought baklava, a filo filled pastry filled with nuts and honey. Have you ever had baklava? Tastes like heaven! It was the best tasting communion ever. People came forward to receive the “bread” and dip it into the cup (that’s called intinction) and it made me smile, really big, to see them walk away, licking their fingers and grinning. Oh sure, there were a few ruffled feathers. But, really, how can you not like baklava. And, I was an interim pastor so they knew I wouldn’t be there long.
I mean no disrespect against the worship practices in any tradition by any of my observations . It’s just that life, and faith, and our love for grandchildren and beloved friends who are ill, and the strangers we worship with….it’s all mixed up together. And shouldn’t we do what we can to bring the goodness of all it to the surface? To make life as palatable as we can for one another? To make our worship as meaningful and fulfilling as possible? In doing so, I think we get a little closer to what Jesus was talking about that night he fed his disciples. If we are commanded to share these meals in remembrance of Christ, shouldn’t they really taste like the feast of God for the people of God? The feast of our lives. To be shared. In love.
So, I’m determined, if I have the honor to serve another church again as their pastor, we will have baklava. Or, at least, good tasting bread. And, I am fairly confident my granddaughter will like it a lot better.
May your worship and life and loves be sweet to the taste and fulfilling always.
Something to chew on…