The pastor's words were always the same. Eventually I could predict the inflection of his words and every pause for emphasis. The table would be "fenced": Unbelievers were warned against partaking, with no explanation other than that they might eat and drink judgment on themselves. This was confusing to a child - What sort of wrath could be conveyed by such plain bread and sips of wine? We remained in our seats and waited while the trays were slowly passed around by solemn men in blue blazers. I always leaned in to smell the sweet wine as it passed. It was as alluring as anything one can't have. I watched the adults sip and chew slowly, keeping their heads down and their eyes closed. It was painfully silent. I was too young to understand why this meal was something to desire.
Another church, this one in Philadelphia. An exuberant African-American pastor with sing-songy sermons trembling with thanks for the fullness of life. He would pause at the communion table and wipe the sweat from his glistening face. He would raise the cup high for all to see. "When Christ saves you, He makes you a part of an eternal, international family, and He invites you to join Him at a glorious, joyous marriage feast. Taking the Lord's Supper makes me so excited about the day when we will finally all sit down together with Him at that table." Gazing at the cup, "I take this cup, and I imagine my Savior clinking His glass against mine!" A unbridled, boyish grin as he relished that thought.
A gentle pastor in downtown Washington DC would welcome those who were part of the family for whom this table was spread. Then - something that I had never heard before - he would take time to explain it to those who weren't yet part of that family. He would tell them with love that partaking of this meal was an act of professing belief. If they were not at the point where they could accept and profess the Gospel, then for the sake of honesty toward themselves, God, and others, they should refrain. With love in his eyes and his voice he would tell them how much we all looked forward to the day that they would join us in this meal.
A suburban Virginia church pastored by a Scot completely unlike the dour stereotype. His face is radiant as he welcomes us to the table. He reflects on this gift to our senses and urges us to trust that "As surely as you touch this bread and smell and taste this wine, so surely have you been saved." We are no different from the doubting saint who needed to touch the scarred palms. We must touch, smell, and taste to fortify our belief that the news is true. We walk forward - admitting our need with our bodies - and he holds out the bread and wine to us. He looks directly into our eyes, greets us by name, and tells us that this body, this blood, were broken and shed for us.
Our host is unseen, but in this meal - and in the different strands of meaning that the churches in my life have drawn out of it - I see Him more and more.
When I doubt His generosity, this meal reminds me that in Him we are given the ordinary necessities - bread, a meal. But we are also given so much more; we get beauty and celebration - wine, a feast.
When I feel alone, it teaches me that this communal God loves bringing unlikely companions together for a good, good meal.
When I fail to rejoice in an ordinary life, it shows me that the almighty Creator with every resource at His disposal is yet content to instill the simplest, most common elements with a world of meaning.
When I find the paradoxes of my faith frustrating, this meal reminds me that they are also beautiful. Having something to touch, smell, taste, be nourished by, and enjoy with my boundless family makes me more content with these mysteries.
How can an observance so communal also be so intimate?
How can a meal that marks history's most unfair death also be a celebration of the greatest news ever given?
How did the Father's turning His back on His Son create a family that knows no bounds?
How can a torn piece of bread and a sip of wine form the feast of a King?
How can the tangible communicate the divine?
How can a broken body be the only bridge to rescue?
I can’t give an answer. I can only taste, see, and be glad.