The weekly exercise of celebrating communion as a Catholic was the highlight of going to church as a child. I loved the thin wafers, the solemn manner in which we all stood in line to approach the altar, the seriousness on even my brother’s faces as we participated with all who had studied and prayed and finally been accepted into the club of those who are worthy of receiving. I knew what the sacrament meant but I didn’t feel it, I was more interested in what all those around were doing, how it seemed to change everyone as they stood in line to open their mouths and drink from a shared cup. Folks who had just been napping, children who had been kicking the kneelers, suddenly all were as outwardly invested as the widow who never let her attention stray from the priest. My communion was with those around me but not yet with God.
My Methodist church celebrates this sacrament on the first Sunday of each month. For 3 or sometimes 4 weeks, I attend without this direct connection with God, without the reinforcement of His sacrifice and HIs desire to give me new life. It has become ever more a significant Sunday, I remind Plum that it is communion Sunday when he is wavering on his decision to join us. He, like me as a child, loves the ceremony or maybe just the sweet bread and the grape juice he dips it into. In fact he often asks at home for bread and a cup of grape juice to repeat the experience, I don’t think he is praying or receiving enlightenment, yet he knows the practice at church is special and he loves to relive it at home. Even with the opportunity to frequently enjoy those flavors as he sits on the couch, he always chooses to go when I remind him it is communion Sunday.
Keeping track of THE Sunday each month allows me to consider hours before I ever leave the house just what is going to be asked of me when I do get to church. Much before I am invited to the altar, I have been preparing to receive. I feel the heaviness of my soul as I consider my desire to be in communion with God, I recall the lightness as I return to me seat after opening my hands to this gift. The responsibility of it is never lost on me, yet sometimes communion hits me deeper, knocks my balance off, I stumble away and know God has asked of and offered more to me. Thus, after missing the last two weeks of church, the first Sunday because I was too sad and the next Sunday because I was too ill, I was well aware of the calendar date and what I was facing this week.
My anger over the loss of my son was initially directed at God, I had no desire to draw near to Him or to accept what He was handing out. Having healed from this rift, having confessed my blaming heart and my misplaced and outsized anger, I slowly have been making amends to God and accepting His nearness. But communion? An entirely different communication of my choice to be a supplicant, of my proclamation to seek Him out, of my declaration of an emptiness only He could fill. To be honest, even as I prepared for the day, I wasn’t confident I was ready to dive back in that fully, to talk with God that directly. I slyly mentioned to Chef that I wished he wasn’t going to miss it due to the class he takes during the service hour. I wanted him with me but I didn’t know how to ask him to sacrifice what he gains from the group just to prop me up, again. It felt selfish to ask someone to give more when I should be able to do it on my own. He replied that if I came to his classroom when it was time, he would duck out for a few minutes. A plan was created, I felt surer knowing he would be by my side.
The music began, my soul was being prepared to receive by breaking down my resistance, the pretend wholeness I was showing to those around me laid bare. My tears flowed freely. I was being readied to approach God out of my need rather than merely because of habit. I barely heard the sermon, couldn’t stay focused on the words my pastor was sharing. Instead I was anticipating the choice I was making, silent emptying of this vessel I brought into the building. God was no longer content to be near me, He wanted more. Was I willing to submit, to allow Him to patch up my brokenness with His love, could I agree to welcome the Holy Spirit directly into my pain? God and I have been dancing, my steps going back and His reaching forward, certainly through the example of His children as they have supported me and loved me and given space for my grief. Now though, He wanted to show me Himself.
As my pastor broke the loaf of bread, as he poured the glasses of juice, I was mesmerized by those symbols of sacrifice. I was transported back to the last supper, to a deeper understanding of God’s gift to me. Rushing out of the room to get Chef and Plum from their classes, I felt drawn back into the sanctuary, my urgency to commune was palpable. Minimally aware of my surroundings, I approached the communion stewards, beautiful friends of ours who offered not just their own desire to hold us along this sorrowful path but also the welcoming of God. My hands opened and lifted up to receive, gently I held the bread and dipped it into the juice, the moment had arrived, would I, could I allow this into my body, could I commit to God’s redeeming presence in my soul?
What happened deeply, profoundly transformed me, my thanksgiving stuttered to God as I sank to my knees on the cushion by the altar, I can only say that my resistance vanished as the body and blood of Christ met my tongue, traveled into my body. My Chef met me as I sobbed before I could even return to my seat, an emissary of God, one who could surround me and hold me as I freed the tears and the pain, my emptiness replaced by God’s grace. I haven’t been right since, I am changed. I am solemn and serious and celebratory all at once, I know that God and I have built a direct line between us, no longer dependent at least for these few hours, on the work of His children. I communed with God and it was good.
It will be four more weeks before I have an opportunity to approach the altar with a humbled heart, willing to publicly announce my acceptance of the glory of God in my life. Where I will be on this grief journey by then is beyond my awareness. Will I grasp the gift, will I walk humbly up to receive? Will I avoid or reject out of rekindled anger? I am as unsure of the future regarding that choice as I am of my ability to leave the house each day to honor commitments I have made. Yet for this one morning, the first Sunday of the month, I walked further into my relationship with God. God offered Himself to me, I gave back my broken self and we communed. Bread and juice never tasted so good.