Until relatively recently, I kept choking at communion. Not as in getting the bread wedged in my larynx, but more because I was petrified of participating. The lines would form and I’d start choking like the Australian Cricket team in Nottingham.
It started close to a year ago. I’d been easing my way slowly into church and, at a thanksgiving service, the Senior Pastor asked if anyone wanted to share a story of gratitude.
This was the 8am service (where I’d been sneaking as it was quieter and gave me a place to reflect, surrounded by an older demographic of Christians whom I could spend ages observing) and, my heart in my mouth, I offered to briefly share my thankfulness around my journey to date. Afterwards a lovely older lady invited me to the front to take communion with her.
I declined. My first response internally (based on memories from school): “But I can’t, I didn’t go to the lessons!”
Swiftly followed by: “What if the Senior Pastor sends me back for, I dunno…. giving a wrong answer…. some invisible ink writing on my forehead that says, NO, she’s not done the classes?!”
Yet such a sense of being ‘called’ to do it. Overridden by a stronger feeling that I didn’t want to be ‘on show’ (so writes the extrovert with the introvert soul).
I subsequently discovered that, unlike my experience at school, Communion classes weren’t necessary. It had all changed a bit since I was a child. Which left me feeling relieved. But also teetering.
There were just too many feelings. None of them bad. Simply those feelings that make your eyes leak because they are miraculous and precious. Which was the crux, because each time I physically imagined myself taking communion, all those glorious tears would start up and, hell (oops), how’s a gal going to get through her first communion if she’s a blubbering heap?! With everyone watching! I knew they wouldn’t be watching me at all, really, it was me battling a strange and unusual self-consciousness.
There was such solemnity in my heart around it. I was conscious of a ‘no going back if you do’ feeling too. But the real fear I had to work through was all mine. Communion became an intensely personal moment. So intensely personal I was frozen by it.
I thought I’d run these fears past the SAP, feverishly banging out one of my questing emails.
There. Wasn’t. One.
Writing this post over a year later, I even went back and checked. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
The SAP can be tricky like this. Most times he delivers guidance if he perceives a real struggle. But others, when he suspects God is up to something in your heart, he goes silent to let you both figure it out.
Looks like it was just me and God then.
Communion is a reminder of The Last Supper. Jesus, on the Passover, shared bread and wine with his disciples. It is recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Jesus gave the disciples bread, saying, “This is my body” (Matt. 26:26). Then he gave them a cup, saying, “This is my blood of the covenant” (Matt. 26:28). Luke tells us Jesus instructed his disciples to follow the pattern he gave them: “Do this in remembrance of me” (22:19). Just as Passover was intended to commemorate God’s deliverance over and over again, so was the Lord’s Supper. The meal reminds us that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.
The SAP says he prays that God keeps him out the way to allow God to do the work. As I mentally shied away from walking to the front of a church to accept wine and wafer, and with the SAP leaving me with only prayer and reflection, God was working in other mysterious ways.
The next Communion, at a busier 10am service, the Connections pastor announced, “they were doing something new this week.” No-one was required to walk up to the front. Instead the bread and grape juice was served along the rows. Still solemn, still important. But, for me, without an individual spotlight, a gentler easing into a ritual that I had been too overwhelmed to contemplate prior.
So, have I managed to walk up the front and take Communion from another?
The first, hours away from home, visiting a new church on Easter Sunday. On that day, of all days, how could I ignore the call to communion? I gave myself a stern talking to, put my heart in my eyes and my hands out to a stranger. And that’s when I truly understood it.
The Lord’s Supper is an invitation: to identify with Christ’s death and resurrection in the power of the Spirit. And we come to the table together, to have communion with Christ and with one another. I could not do this in isolation, as a private act. Communion signifies unity. It demanded more of me. To cease sitting apart and observing. To participate. To be vulnerable.
I bless whomever made that initial internal church decision to try ‘communion by rows’, I really do. Otherwise I may well be typing this having only ever observed communion distantly.
But stepping up, stepping out, stepping in? That has been the greatest part of communion for me. It reminds me that while I can still sit in a row and accept the communion bread and wine as it passes in front of me, there is something in the action of being upstanding. Looking another directly in the eye as they offer you bread and wine, you accept their service, their blessing, the Lord’s grace. There is intimacy there, a closeness that echoes the relationship God seeks with us:
“I found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the poor, the despised and the outcasts are honoured.’ – Sara Miles, Take This Bread.