Sometime in the past, you might have shared communion with one of our deacons or parish nurses in your living room. Sometime in the future there might come the day, when one of us will visit you bringing communion right into your house. So I need to tell you, having communion at home is — strange. It’s really strange.
There was a time when I used to worry about its strangeness. I know home communion is supposed to help us remember our connection to the church in every time and place. It’s supposed to strike a chord of nostalgia deep in your soul, so something of the wafers and the grape juice will remind you of the church of your childhood. Here we will bring the church right into your kitchen, but seriously, nobody is fooled! It’s not the same thing.
I worried about other things too — like these itsy-bitsy glasses getting dropped or the wafers getting stuck together, until I finally learned. The wafers always stick together.
One person has a beautiful, white upholstered sofa. Every time I pour grape juice from this bottle into this doll-sized glass, over her white couch, I’m telling you, it is an act of faith. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy upon us.
Once I laid out communion on a tray table beside a woman seated in her recliner. As soon as the gold dish was open and the cups were poured, the woman’s cat hopped up on the tray and swished his tail through the elements all holy and blessed.
Each of us come to this table with our own expectations of how it will feel, and what it means, and how we will be transformed.You can feel the charge that surrounds communion! And what if my prayer doesn’t help. What if I don’t have what this person is needing most. There was a time when I used to worry about all of this.
Then over the years, something changed.
The more often I’ve brought communion to people, the more I’ve been met with relentless patience. It is remarkable. I’ve learned that it matters so little whether communion is “performed correctly,” and it matters so much if we can hear the prayer rising up in your heart. I’ve learned that after sharing communion, the room feels different, and so do I. It’s really strange. It is magnificently strange.
You have shared the grace of Christ with me at your tables. By receiving grace, I have learned my own longing for it. It’s kind of like when you don’t realize how hungry you are until you finally have something to eat. Grace is like that.
At the kitchen table, we remember what communion used to be like at church. In church, we imagine what communion might be like one day. Get into the remembering and follow it far enough —it will spill into imagining. Try imagining for more than a minute, and you’ll find yourself remembering. Remembering and imagining wrap around each other, and grace is right here. It’s in the gluey wafers and the cup spilled out. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy upon us.
In the scripture Deb just read, Moses is standing at the intersection between remembering and imagining. He’s telling the people: Look. You are the ones who are alive right now.
Before he starts into the ten commandments, Moses tells the people that the covenant God gives them is the same promise God made to their ancestors. Remember your ancestors. Remember the LORD your God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. I know some of you hadn’t been born yet. Maybe you don’t remember living under Pharaoh, but your parents do and your grandparents do, so it’s in your blood. By remembering your ancestors, you’re remembering the LORD.
It might seem like this should be enough. Only thing is, there is no remembering without imagining.
Moses stood in front of the people and said, Look. You are alive. This is the promise. It is in your blood, but it’s not yours alone. It belongs to your children and your grandchildren, and your grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Hear O Israel: The LORD is our God. The LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Keep these words in your heart. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise up. Write them on your house and on your heart. You are the ones who are alive, he told them. This promise is what you have.
And you and I know. We’re the ones who are alive right now. We are the ones charged with honoring our ancestors and our descendants. So we know how this is hard. It makes us worry.
The church has changed since the days of our grandparents and their grandparents. We worry, what would our ancestors think of the way things are today? You know, trying to earn the approval of the ghosts can be exhausting. You can lose your life in the trying.
We worry about the faith we’re passing onto our children. Is it even enough? Are we giving them something more than the admonition to just be nice? What if our children leave the church like so many have… What if our children leave the church, then come back someday, what will they find when they do?
I have shared this with you before. In his book, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates points out that slavery has existed in the U.S. for at least two hundred and fifty years. This means that a woman could have been born into slavery, and her grandparents were slaves, and her grandchildren were slaves, so all she could see in any direction was slavery. Slavery going back as far as she knew, slavery going forward as far as she could anticipate.1 Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Text Publishing: 2015. page 70. I missed this point on my first reading. I am indebted to Austin Channing Brown for pointing it out in her book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.
If this is what you have, if this is your world, how is it possible to set your heart toward liberation —because there were people who did this! How can you pray for a promise you’ve never known, and might never live to see, and what I want to know is what if we are born with this longing imprinted on our soul…
When God was forming our inward parts in the dark, when she was singing and knitting us together in our mother’s womb, what if God got some holy grace mixed in with our being, so now we’re always listening for the mercy. We’re always longing to receive and return the compassion we’re made of. This longing for God’s forgiveness — this is not our liability. It’s not our weakness.
What if this longing for grace is our deep truth.
What if this longing is what we have to give to our children.
Of course, it is good to give the kids the stuff of our faith. Give them scavenger hunt bags and Sunday School books. Teach them the stories, and the songs, and the prayers.
When I share communion with some of our oldest members, we end by saying the Lord’s Prayer together. Somebody taught them that prayer eighty years ago —could’ve been somebody from this church! Ninety years from now it might be Kinley, or Oliver, or Olivia having communion in their living rooms, and they will be ready. They already know the prayer.
It is good to give our children the stuff of our faith. It’s just that I am standing in the need, and you are standing in the need. And imagine if we could give this to our children too. Let them see how we need mercy, how you can have the whole wide world, but give me Jesus. Let the kids see us question the teachings, and challenge the rules, and wrestle with the angels. Let them see our doubt and our worry, but please let them see us coming to this table.
The day will surely come when our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren will find their own deep longing for grace. How will they know they can bring that longing here? How will they know there’s grace in the bread…
Moses stood up in front of the people. He said, Look, you are alive, and this is what you have. Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, your, soul, and your strength.
Generations and generations later, Jesus stood up in front of the people. He said, Look, you are alive, and this is what you have. This is my body broken. This is the cup poured out. It’s the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. It is strange and it is holy.
Now we are the ones who are alive. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy upon us. We come here longing for grace. Imagine if this is what we have to give our children and their children. Imagine what communion will be one day. This is what Jan Richardson does in her poem. She writes this (click for the poem): And the table will be wide.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Text Publishing: 2015. page 70. I missed this point on my first reading. I am indebted to Austin Channing Brown for pointing it out in her book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.|