Thursday, April 05, 2007

Maundy Thursday - Year C

“If this church starts having weekly communion I’m leaving and taking my tithe with me,” he blasted at me, one rainy, Nova Scotia, morning.

“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” I muttered to myself.

“Well, you do what you have to do,” I said, minutes before our congregation was going to vote on whether we were going to have weekly communion.

His was the only dissenting vote.

He didn’t storm out like he was threatening to. He still attended worship each week and still contributed his tithe. It turned out his bluster was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. I didn’t know whether I was relieved or disappointed he didn’t follow through on his threat to leave.

But, as if to make a point, or to remain consistent with his conscience, when communion time came on those aberrant Sundays, he simply stayed glued to his seat when he felt he didn’t “need” the sacrament.

I still found it odd that a congregation had to vote on whether or not they were going to do what Jesus said that he wanted us to do – receive him in bread and wine, body and blood.

But I got thinking about what the sacrament was all about. Sometimes, when I offer the sacrament it feels like I’m reading from a script someone has prepared for me. I say the words without really feeling their impact.

I suppose it’s an occupational hazard. When you deal with holy things day-in-and-day-out, the holy becomes commonplace.

But maybe the words can do their work without me getting in the way. Maybe that’s the point.


I was surprised by how deeply moved she was when I gave her holy communion. Leah was living under house arrest for stealing a car. Or as she put it, “Taking a trip to the store.”

Her mom asked that I pick up Leah’s medication for her, since she didn’t have a car, and Leah lived way out on the outskirts of the city, where rent was cheap, and where the buses didn’t run.

I met with her each week for about six months. When we visited we talked about what she wanted out of life. Surely, dabbling in drugs and taking cars without asking hadn’t been her childhood dream.

“I think I want to be a hairstylist,” she said looking in the mirror, primping her hair. “I think I’d be really good at it.”

One day, as I was leaving one of our visits, she hesitated, and then asked, “Next time you come, can you bring Communion?”

I could have smacked myself for not thinking of it sooner. After all, that’s part of my job, isn’t it? To bring communion to those who can’t come to it?

The next week, I brought my communion kit and laid it out on her kitchen table. I apologized in advance for the stale wafers and cold red wine that had been left in my car over night.

Then, I look the bread in my hand and reminded her that:

In the night he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took break, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying ‘Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’

And after supper he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to all to drink saying, ‘This cup is the New Covenant which is shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.”

I handed her the bread and gave her God’s promise: This is the body of Christ, given for you.

Leah burst out crying. She grabbed a Kleenex and dabbed her eyes. “For ME?” she asked.

“For you,” I said.

She received the bread in her hand and put it in her mouth.

I took the cup and said, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

Leah brushed the hair from her face, dabbed her eyes again, took the cup, and put it to her mouth.

I was surprised that she, then took a wafer from the jar, and said, “The body of Christ, given for you, pastor.”

And handed me the bread.

Then she took the cup and placed it to my lips saying, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

I took her hand and said, “May the body of blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen us and keep us in his grace. Amen.”

“Amen,” she said.

To the casual observer, this encounter looked like just another pastoral visit, two people doing what church folks are supposed to do.

But to God, to me, and to Leah, this was the biblical story jumping out from the pages.

This may not have had the drama of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, but it was a holy act of sharing. Leah received God’s forgiveness and wanted me to experience the same love.

I wish I could say that Leah’s life turned around, that she went to school and became a hairstylist. But after her sentence was completed she dropped off the face of the earth. I had heard from some folks downtown that she was working the streets to support her drug habit. Her mom said they hadn’t talked in months.

I tried to track her down, but she seemed to have just evaporated. But I still think about her and those visits. She received and experienced God’s love and mercy, and I wonder still if she prays, and seeks God out. Because I know that God has not stopped seeking her out.

Even though the bread was stale and the wine too cold, we shared communion not because of fancy church words or because one of us was wearing a dog collar, or even because we ate bread and drank wine, but because God was present, .

We shared communion because God made it so. God turned our eating and drinking into a feast of shared humanity; broken, frail, and in need of healing and forgiveness. That day, in her little apartment, I had the opportunity and privilege to see her as God sees her – as a beloved child.

And when we gather around the table as a family, I receive that same privilege. I have the opportunity to see you through God-coloured eyes. And I get to see you live out your communion in your lives – in the ministries here at Good Shepherd and in your jobs and relationships. I see how you put towels around your waist and wash your neighbours’ feet. And I get to see how you are a blessing to others.

Or I like how internet sage, RLP puts it, “If the wafers are going stale for you, be the bread yourself. Break yourself open and nourish the world.

“If the communion table seems cheap and tacky, become a table yourself. Be a resting place for the weary.

“If you feel there are no more angels, pick up the phone and spread your own [glad] tidings.

“Gather your bread. Set your table. Shout your good news.

“Do these things in remembrance of HIM.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


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