We fell into line to receive the body and blood of Christ.
Instituted over two thousand years ago, it is repeated with simplicity and order in every faith community of Christ followers. And though we are cautioned to share this meal with careful reflection, we are human.
Sometimes my heart is heavy with concern for a struggling friend, with prayers uplifting them. The declining health of aging parents shifts the focus from spiritual refreshment to a few moments of physical retreat. Other times my Savior reminds me how I insist on my own desires and yet He welcomes me to His table. Perhaps the hardest times are those that seem ordinary, with mental assent but little heart involvement.
But there are times I’ve come to the table and known that encounter with the body and blood of Christ changed me, right then and there.
The first time I was allowed to participate in the Lord’s supper was on my twelfth birthday, following my immersion baptism. For so long, I’d been told that until I made a public commitment to follow Him, I could not come to the table. Just as one longs for a cool drink of water after a hot, outdoor task, I had longed for this meal. As much as I could understand as a pre-teenager, I came with my life laid open to whatever my Lord had in mind for me.
Another life-changing remembrance meal was part of the new college student retreat. The Christian college took us off-campus for two un-distracted days with staff and each other, learning not only about the guidelines, but helping us learn to depend on one another. What we didn’t know was that our final gathering was a service about the Lord’s supper, but the elements were pretzels and Coke.
At first it seemed radical, bordering on sacrilegious. But I internalized that Jesus used the common, the everyday, the mundane, to remind me of Him.
But tonight, I only expected the ordinary. With all my senses on high alert, I approached the Table of the Lord with apprehension. Just as my infant granddaughter quietly observes a new space with little interaction, so had I absorbed my surroundings.
The handmade benches, the stain-glass windows, the copied song sheets, the concrete walls, the instruments of the praise team, the rough-hewn altar, the varied appearance of the weekly congregation.
My first-ever visit to the state penitentiary, worshipping with men convicted of some crime our society has labeled as dangerous.
And though I hated this about myself, some looked like I expected: rough, scarred skin, long, shaggy hair, eyes that saw but reflected little life.
But there were surprises. The young man who reminded me of my friend’s son ready to begin his senior year of high school. The middle aged man who wore a wedding ring, clean-shaven and well groomed, who would have looked more at-home in a three-piece suit than the prison stripes. The blond twenty-something who had brought Max Lucado’s book “Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine” along with his Bible.
As the time came for me to receive the bread and the cup, my prayer was that my shaky legs would hold me up all the way down and back to my seat. Part of me asked forgiveness from Christ for not entering fully into what His sacrifice had cost Him. Part of me just wanted to go quickly and return to my place.
But God meets us in unexpected places, in the mystery and holiness of His spirit.
As I received the bread, the wine and the blessing from two of the prison congregation, God revealed the unity of His body. These were my BROTHERS in CHRIST, loved dearly, just as I am. Though separated from freedom by thick walls, barred windows, and double-locked entrances, God’s love could not be kept out.
As I completed the circuit, crimson, sapphire, jade, and golden sunbeams filtered across the altar. Like God illuminating my heart to see His Church as more than I had before. To see myself as a sister and a sinner alongside these men who struggled in society, all in need of a Savior, all praising Him for making a way to come, to eat, to drink, to remember.