Leaving Salem

Today is World Communion Sunday. It is an annual event in which Christians worldwide celebrate our oneness in Christ, in spite of our many differences and traditions. We pause to pray for unity and peace, and we recommit ourselves to such efforts as we gather together around the Lord’s Table – the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Communion – forming the centerpiece of the worship.

At my church we observe Communion every week. It is such a nice change for me to take the bread and cup each Sunday. Because in the Baptist church of my childhood, the Lord’s Supper was never weekly; we might have appeared to be Catholic, God forbid. No, we took Communion quarterly, and typically we observed the ceremony at the end of a Sunday night service. We had those stale little wafers half the size of a postage stamp, and lukewarm grape juice – never wine – in tiny plastic cups. Rarely was this ritual ever explained and never was it central to our worship.  It was tacked on as an amendment, an afterthought, on a school night when folks seemed to rush through the motions.

Whether we come to the Lord’s Table each day, each week, or once a year, it’s how we come to the table that is more important. We must be careful in the familiar not to lose the wonder and sensation that Christ sits at the table and gives himself for his people as we take the bread and cup.

Not long ago I attended an Episcopal worship service where my friend serves as the minister. It was a wonderful experience of sights, sounds, and beautifully orchestrated liturgy. And it was unlike anything of my own Christian tradition. Sure, I attend and have participated often in ecumenical services, but to attend a Sunday morning Episcopal mass was new, confusing, and magnificent. I was amazed at small children who were far better acclimated to their surrounding than this free-group intruder. I sluggishly stood, always a few seconds behind the crowd. I found myself standing alone, dropping to the pew after everyone else took their seat. I fumbled with the Book of Prayer and the hymnal, never able to find the readings or the songs on time. I was a nervous wreck wishing I had read Episcopalianism for Dummies before darkening the door.

After the homily, and a number of other confusions for this Baptist-raised child, the invitation was offered to receive Holy Communion. Finally something I understood! I waited eagerly until it was time to go forward, kneel at the altar, and have the elements placed in my hands. Beside me at the altar was a young family: A dad, a mom, and their three small children. The youngest was probably four or five years old. He stood right beside me at the rail, too short to kneel. I looked at him and smiled. He smiled in return, trembling with expectation. He wiped his wet lips with the back of his tiny hand and coarsely whispered, in a voice that could have been heard at the back of the sanctuary, “This is going to be good!”

And it was.

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