Communion has always been a favorite element of Christian tradition for me. I grew up in a church that only served communion on a quarterly basis, so it was a special, occasional treat in that context. And the church I grew up in had an extra-special version of the Communion cracker that I’ve never encountered anywhere else since moving on from that congregation. I don’t know how to describe it, and I don’t know where they got it or how it was made, but it was a really tiny square, and it was extremely crispy. It had this dry crunchiness to it that was very satisfying to a little girl who already loved bread and was usually hungry in Sunday service. One Sunday, I remember my mother chastising me for actually saying, “YUM!” out loud after partaking of the Communion cracker.
Over the years, I’ve experienced different methods of serving Communion–courtesy of my sampling of various faith traditions. I have come to really enjoy the method that allows pastors to serve it from the front of the sanctuary while parishioners walk up and physically receive it. There’s something to be said for the interaction, however slight, of the pastor blessing the parishioner who receives the elements.
The words are not complicated. “The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, poured out for you.” And yet this simple script accompanies a very intimate act, and I often wonder what exactly I’m supposed to do in response. Obviously consuming the elements is the main response. But there is always something in me that wants to make eye contact with the person offering the elements, something in me that wants to express gratitude for this person’s role in bringing Jesus directly to me. But the interaction is so short, so quick, and “thanks” seems so inadequate, that I never manage anything. I simply hope that they read the appreciation in my eyes.
This morning, I served Communion to my fellow church members for the first time in my life. Recently, on Easter, my husband and I became official members of Keystone United Methodist Church, where we have been attending since August of 2015. We are involved enough to feel a true part of the church. We attend weekly service, we have a Sunday school class, and we even have a small group. We tithe, and we participate in the extra events when we can. We feel very much connected to this church. Last month, however, we became connected in a new way in that we were asked to assume “hosting” responsibilities. At Keystone, a host not only hands out the bulletins and greets servicegoers, but a host also facilitates the offering and assists in serving Communion, things my husband and I have never done–until this morning.
It’s not complicated. Our lead and associate pastors always serve the bread, and the hosts serve the cup. We weren’t really given any instructions either, although we were told that we didn’t have to say anything if we didn’t want to, and not everyone who serves in the hosting role does say something to those who partake. However, for me, being told that I’m partaking of the body of Christ, broken for me, and the blood of Christ, shed for me, is (as my husband put it) a very sacred part of churchgoing and church participation. So I decided that I would say, “The blood of Christ, poured out for you” to those who came through my line as I held out the cup.
I was entirely unprepared, however, for the deep way in which I would be blessed by this simple action of holding out a cup of grape juice and saying a few words over and over again. A few times I had tears welling in my eyes as I repeated this phrase I’ve heard for years and years and years, having grown up in the church–and yet which I’ve never said to anyone.
It is customary for those assisting with Communion to receive the elements beforehand, from the pastor, in a quick little ritual that takes place before we get in position to serve. But my reception of Communion today occurred not in having the elements offered to me but in offering the blood of Christ to others. I was so deeply moved by the idea of how humbling and yet how powerful it felt to offer the salvation, the forgiveness, the grace, the very blood of our Savior, to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Who am I? I am no one. I’m not ordained, I’m not called to pastoral ministry, I’m not equipped to explain everything I believe and why I believe it. But I was allowed to participate in extending the grace of God today. I got to experience the beautiful and sacrosanct gift of offering the hope of Jesus Christ our Lord to those who need him. And I was simply in awe.
And I received something else as I stood there and held out the cup to my friends and fellow churchgoers. Almost everyone, after being told, “this is the body of Christ, broken for you” by the pastor and, “this is the blood of Christ, poured out for you” by me, said in response, “Amen.”
What a small word, and yet what other, more genuine, more true response is there for that moment? And now I understand what I can say when I am back in the line, receiving the elements once again with everyone else.
The body of Christ, broken for you. AMEN.
The blood of Christ, poured out for you. AMEN.