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A Sacramental Struggle

“I take Communion. I just don’t get Communion.”

That statement fits across many – most – years of my life. As a little kid in church, I could sense mystery in Communion, but not much meaning. I knew I had to be 12 and confirmed to take part, so I figured that included an automatic shift in my understanding: I would suddenly become one with the hearts and minds of the solemn nibblers and sippers of the congregation. Once, I wandered into the chancel kitchen (not GPPC’s) after worship. Two of my peers – one the son of the Communion preparer – were sampling multiple tiny glasses of grape juice as if at a wine tasting (“Mmm – fruity, ahh – delightful…”). I liked them well enough to feel bad that they were going to Hell. This may have been after my dad, who sometimes seemed like the Gospel with legs, shared with me that he had once taken Communion when he “hadn’t been ready” – which I took to mean not having his mind in a suitably reverential place. He said he felt really bad about it. I don’t think he was trying to lay any expectations on me – but it stuck with me for a really long time: you gotta have your mind right.

I’ve been waiting on my mind to get right for years. What, exactly, should be in there, just before and right as I take Communion? Unworthiness? Gratitude for Jesus’ broken body – and spilled blood? For me, that is hard to think about, even hard to type. So I have muddled along, still allowed to sing in the choir, teach Sunday School, attend Ice Cream Socials – while in search of a heart connection to this key sacrament of our faith. And lately, at GPPC, I think I have begun to find it.

Our first season of Supper Church a few years back helped me. There were wonderful meals, prayer, Bible study, fellowship – and Communion, all at table together.  Communion seemed to seep across the rest of the experience – becoming less mysterious and more spirit-filled.

Our pastor’s preaching on Communion goes deep and soars, even as it centers us. I have a scrap of bulletin in my kitchen with a scribbled quote from her invitation to table a year or two back: God is the table. Jesus is the bread. The Spirit serves. Her sermon on Superbowl Sunday offered this assurance for gathering: There is no rivalry here, no better or worse seats, no food you need money to buy, no ticket for admission. All are welcome. All are equal. 

Just last Sunday, Carla shared author Nora Gallagher’s account of walking to the Communion table in a self-absorbed daze, where she lightly bumped into and then recognized a woman to whom she was not speaking. “Let’s see what happens now” she imagined the Holy Spirit chuckling. Possibly that story was in some dim corner of my mind earlier this week when I snuck out of work for a Five Guys burger fix. As I fed the meter on Broad Street, a man approached with a little small talk and then asked if I could help him because he was very hungry. I heard myself offer to buy him a burger. And we had lunch, at table together. Before I maxed out on such an extroverted, first-time experience and excused myself back to work, Tremaine and I had learned a half dozen things about each other.

My dad would have offered him a ride somewhere, taken down his contact info, followed up on his efforts to get disability. Maybe next time for me. One thing about Communion: the invitations keep coming ’round.

Although Alfred Walker joined our church as a teenager, he was surprised to be the longest-time member attending our Spring Retreat last weekend. In all his years at GPPC, he has never seen anyone take Communion inappropriately.

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