Last Friday I got an e-mail from church complete with a bobble-headed caricature of my pastor standing professor-style next to a blackboard with a pointer stick. He reminded us that we were studying the vine and branches text and to bring a friend. There would also be communion. In our reformed church this is not a weekly or monthly occurrence. It’s kind of a special occasion. If you allow for absenses for travel and teaching children’s church I probably take communion a few times per year. That week I would be there. I can’t remember a time when I felt more relief or gladness knowing this sacrament was coming.
It had been a long week, and the long slow weekend (no school Monday for MLK Day) would feel even longer. We were waiting to hear news about who would lose their jobs at my husband’s company. He’d heard it would be 400 of the 4,000 employees (it ended up being only 250, but many came from his department). Rumors were flying about who would get cut, what day this week it would be, how it would be done. None of it was good. The general consensus was that sometime that week there would be deep, widespread, bottom-line-benefitting cuts. And this at the same time as Republicans prepared to dismantle the Affordable Care Act with no alternative plan in place. We were nervous and stressed that we’d be without insurance benefits and without our dominant income source very soon.
So Sunday came. My kids opted to take communion in “big church” instead of going to children’s worship. This was both impressive and sweet. I was glad to be taking communion together as a family.
At our church we often take communion by intinction, or dipping the bread into the cup. We process to the front of church and are served individually by elders. It is a large church so we wear name tags so the elder can address us by name when they speak. Ree, the body of Christ, broken for you. Ree, the blood of Christ, shed for you. We take the small square of white bread, dip it in the cup and put the soft, purple-sopped bread into our mouths.
My heart let go of all tension and worry in that moment and in their place gratitude and peace crawled in and curled up. I was so honored and grateful to this man and woman elder pair who called me by name and spoke truth over me and offered me this holy gift. One held the plate of bread and the other the goblet. I didn’t earn this blessing. I couldn’t earn this opportunity to receive this spiritual sustenance with my family. No matter what happened in the week to come I would be welcomed back here to the table next time–no proof of insurance or employment or residence needed.
I’m sure they are busy people, those elders. We are a big church with many needs. Though the woman doesn’t know me her face is familiar. I see her often. She hands out big white towels to the folks we dunk on baptism Sundays. They probably have jobs too, and families, a full life outside church work. And yet there they were welcoming me, feeding my burdened spirit.
Most of the time communion is for me a process of recognizing the massive weight of my sin and how it should mean I should suffer eternally for turning against God. That’s followed by assurance that Jesus’ death, and the mercy and grace therein, is sufficient to pay the price. The relationship is restored. While that’s essential and true and the best reminder ever, last Sunday’s communion surprised me with its comfort. It was rest, peace, home in a way I can’t remember it being before.
“The bread is good,” my seven year-old daughter said to me as we walked up the aisle back to our seat. She said it in the way she might tell me that a grilled cheese sandwich or a peach was good. But the way I heard it was filtered through everything I brought to the table and everything that had washed over me just then–relief, renewal, restoration. I looked at her and nodded. Yes, the bread is good.