Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pentecost 11B

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


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, but 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 in my blood, 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.

Jesus said that he was the bread of life; that whoever eats of his flesh and drinks of his blood will abide in them and they in him. I sure hope that’s true. Because even when we receive God’s mercy and grace through the sacrament of Holy Baptism, we still find ourselves on a path we probably don’t intend.

And you probably have seen the same thing. You might have seen a son or daughter get caught up in a life that brings nothing than pain and misery; rather than the life of joy and abundance that you dreamed for them.

Or maybe it’s YOU. And you find yourself in church wondering if all this God stuff is real.  You wonder in the midst of failed relationships, unfulfilled dreams, a job that does not help you reach the potential God has for, the loneliness of an empty house, where Jesus is in your life.

You wonder quietly if the grief in your life, the pain of loved ones being taken away too early, the injustice of a life’s potential being swallowed by the grave, makes Jesus’ promises seem either too good to be true, or just an idle fantasy we tell ourselves to make the hard times just a little bit easier.

And those are fair questions to ask. If those promises are true than where is the abundant living that Jesus promises? Where is the eternal life that Jesus says begins NOW?

You wonder if the bread of life has gone stale.


I wish I could say that Leah’s life turned around, and that she went to school and became a hairstylist. But after her sentence was completed she dropped off the grid. 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. We shared communion because God was present, just as God promised.

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.

No matter where she find herself, God will not stop looking for her. No matter where you are in YOUR life, God still has a hold on it. On the cross Jesus has joined himself to your grief, your regret, your failure, your loneliness, and your pain, so that, one day, you will experience the power of his resurrection. 

And that resurrection life starts TODAY. Every time you love and care the way Jesus loves and cares, there is the resurrection. Every time you get rid of that grudge and learn to forgive those who hurt you, there is the the resurrection. Every time you comfort those who lost a loved one, because you know what that feels like, there is resurrection.

Jesus said that “to eat and drink is to believe.” And he knew that to believe takes courage.

To eat and drink at the table of holy communion is an act of holy defiance against those those things in our lives that try to keep us from living the life that God wants us to live.

To eat and drink at Jesus’ table means to trust, despite all outward signs, in the promises God gave to us; promises that mourning and crying and pain will not take over your life.

To eat and drink at the table is to trust that a better world is possible and you will have eyes to see it and hands to greet it when that world arrives arrives.

To eat and drink is to believe that you are part of God’s healing work in the world; that God is using you in all your hurts and pain to bring good things to others; that you are part of God’s resurrection plan for others.

Resurrection means getting your hands dirty for others because you serve a God whose hands were pierced for your sake.

Or I like how internet sage, Real Live Preacher 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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