Messy Communion

Dear Church,

Like many Reformed congregations, we here at First Church celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper on the first Sunday of every month. The only exception is the first Sunday of Advent.  I remember Communion Sundays usually meant church was going to last 15 minutes more.  I remember the row of black suits and the big wooden communion table with the words “This Do in Remembrance of Me” written in an old English font which was hard to read.  I remember the wooden holders for the small plastic cups set on the pew in front of us to hold the grape juice.  Everything was so formal, so stuffy, and so routine.

Don’t get me wrong, there is tremendous formality and significance in the administration of the elements.  As Reformed Christians, we believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit Christ is present among us and we are tethered to Him.  But what happens afterward?  Not what do you and I do afterward and not even theologically what happens afterward, but literally what happens right after church on Communion Sundays?  Have you ever wondered this?  Elders armed with plastic pitchers go row by row through the sanctuary collecting the small plastic cups.  Elders in pairs clean off and fold the white linen table cloth.  The trays are carefully taken down stairs to the Fellowship Hall to be cleaned and set neatly back in their place. 

A few Communion Sundays ago, I noticed something different.  The Elders weren’t going through the pews row by row with the plastic pitchers.  Instead, five little boys were seamlessly weaving through the pews collecting used communion cups.  Their little bodies moved effortlessly through the pews without having to turn sideways or shuffle.  They collected the cups in nearly half the time and judging from the laughter, they had a lot of fun doing it.  I’ll be honest; my first reaction was more like the disciples who encouraged the little children to leave Jesus alone after a long day.  I didn’t want the kids to get in the way, literally and figuratively step on the Elders’ toes.  However, just like Jesus’ response, the Elders were overwhelmed with gratitude.  The boys helping made their jobs easier. It also was a portrait of our multi-racial, multi-generational church.

A few months earlier the bread trays used for communion were put away with the bread still in them.  This mishap was discovered a month later in preparation for a communion Sunday.  Month old square pieces of bread were covered in a bluish, greenish mold so bad it literally stained the gold-plated trays.  Instead of buying a new communion set, which would have been several thousand dollars, we decided to go with “the doily plan.”  Now, a small paper doily holds the bread covering the stains from the mold.  Catastrophe avoided.

The Sacrament of Holy Communion is a reverent and sacred activity within the life of the church.  We prepare ourselves spiritually the week before celebrating communion so that our hearts are right before we pull up a chair at our Lord’s Table.  We solemnly reflect on Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins.  We ponder the depths of Jesus’ love for us.  We sing and say words that frame our time around the Table.  And while all these things are right and true, there also is a very important understanding that this feast is an authentic celebration.  Just like sitting down for your Thanksgiving dinner and spilling the gravy on your shirt or laughing uncontrollably when a loved one tells a funny story, when we gather for Holy Communion we do so with a spirit of authentic celebration.  Come as you are.  We’re not perfect.  The trays are not perfect.  The way we prepare, participate and clean up isn’t perfect.  That’s never been the point.  We celebrate communion as a broken body of believers celebrating the grace we have in Jesus while looking forward to His coming again.  So come, for all things are now ready!

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Matt

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