Tag Archive | holy communion

Henry

In case you didn’t know, last month I celebrated the 20th anniversary of my ordination.  As part of my reflection on that singular event, I’ve been thinking a lot about the many events and people which have made up my calling to this point.  I hope in posts to come, to share some of these events/people with you.

One person is Henry (name changed to protect anonymity).  I wasn’t too long in ordained ministry before I got a call from Henry, or should I say, his wife.  She told me he was in the hospital and requested that I come visit him.  Since he hadn’t been to worship in the few months I had been at my new congregation, I asked some of my parishioners about him before I went to see him (the novice trying to be prepared).  They described him as a bit “off,” and that he never came to worship.  I didn’t have much to go on.  When I walked in the hospital room I met an older small and frail looking man.  He was awkward in conversation, but I quickly recognized that as shyness.  As an introvert myself, I’m generally pretty good at distinguishing shyness from aloofness.

The next time I visited with him I brought him communion, and the conversation came a bit easier.  I discovered what his fellow parishioners meant by “off.”  Conversation may have been easier, but it was definitely different. Henry was very focused on Scripture.  Most people I visit in the hospital even now aren’t as concerned about Bible passages as they are about prayer.  Some don’t want Scripture or prayer, they just want someone to listen to their concerns and “hold them,” almost as a confession.  But not Henry, he wanted to talk to me about Scripture.  We had a good conversation.

Then he was released from the hospital to home.  I set up a time to visit him there and arrived Bible in hand, prepared for questions and/or curiousities.  He lived in a very small house – older and a bit run down.  I introduced myself to his wife, who was not a member of the congregation – she too was like her husband and their home – small, older and a bit run down.  She showed me to their room, where Henry was sitting up in bed.  After some conversation, Henry stopped and said, “Pastor, I’d like to have communion now.”  This caught me by surprise – very much by surprise.

My first congregation was not what you would call “sacramental.”  They most certainly believed in the sacraments (for Lutherans that’s Baptism and Communion), but they didn’t feel especially tied to Holy Communion. My parish’s community was heavily Roman Catholic, and among older members there was a tangible “anti-Catholic” feeling.  I heard stories from these older folks about “anti-Protestant” bias when they were growing up.  One man had children in his neighborhood who were not allowed to play with him because he wasn’t Catholic. It stung.  So, as a result of the anti-Protestant bias, they developed an anti-Catholic bias.  I first started hearing these stories when I suggested we begin celebrating Holy Communion weekly, instead of the twice a month practice that was in place when I arrived.  The reaction was STRONG. Weekly communion was too Roman Catholic.  I thought this was outrageous, but at that time, even as a young, green pastor, I knew it was more important to listen than dictate.

Since I had communed Henry earlier in the week, and given the “congregational psyche” on the sacrament, the thought that he would desire communion again so soon was not remotely in my mind.  I was unprepared.  No communion kit.  I apologized profusely and felt quite embarrassed at being caught “off guard.”  But then I had a thought (I like to believe it was the Holy Spirit).  “Henry, do you have bread in the house?”  “How about wine?”  “No? Hmm… how about grape juice?”  So his wife and I gathered a slice of sandwich bread and a cup of grape juice from the kitchen, brought them to his room, and Henry and I had communion together.

Henry and I would visit several more times.  A few months after that first hospital visit he died.  But I still think of Henry often, and the lessons he taught me –

  1. Just because a person doesn’t come to worship doesn’t mean they aren’t faithful.  Don’t get me wrong, worship is VERY important in our faith life, and people miss out immensely when they separate themselves from corporate worship.  As a pastor, it’s never ok with me when people just don’t feel like going to church, or say they don’t get anything out of it.  Those are lame excuses which would be a good topic for another post…  but… even though Henry didn’t come to worship he was still immersing himself in Scripture and spending considerable time in prayer.  I never got to discuss the reasons for his non-attendance at worship because he health declined so quickly.  I’m curious, even all these years later, what those could have been.
  2. We don’t have to have the fancy “stuff” to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Yes, I knew this intellectually, but it was the first time I had to scrape together the elements needed (sliced white sandwich bread and Welch’s grape juice).  We don’t need fancy patens or wafers or chalices for the Lord to be present.  Those things are nice, because they show the level of respect and honor we hold for the sacrament, but they are not necessary.
  3. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS bring my communion kit, whenever I visit anyone.  I only forgot this ONCE in the 20 years since, and you know what happened?  Yep. She asked for communion.  I felt the same rush of shame as my face turned red in embarrassment, as I did with Henry.  UNLIKE Henry, she didn’t have bread or wine or grape juice in the house.  Thank goodness she lived two blocks from the church, so I ran out, then ran back, and we celebrated together.  You never know what a person needs when you walk in their hospital room or home. The communion kit may go untouched, but at least it’s there if needed.

 

Jesus in the lilies

Now that we’re on the verge of Pentecost, I think enough time has passed that I can share this story without cringing too much.  I’ve debated all these weeks whether or not I should share this with you, and I’m still on the fence.  But I’m coming down on the side of sharing, because as parents – and for those of us who are pastors – we are constantly being surprised and tripped up by the questions and actions of others (especially children) – and just in case this has happened, or does happen to anyone in the future, you can have a good laugh, knowing you’re not the only one.

It’s a story, not a theological reflection – but it certainly involves theology!  It also requires some set-up, and for that I apologize, but I think you’ll understand why in the end.  It also might stretch the bonds of taste for some, so if you’re offended by gross things kids do sometimes, and a parent’s/pastor’s need to think quick and go with the flow, then you might not want to read on.  You’ve been warned.

Ok, here goes…

image1)  Lutherans, for the most part, have a pretty “high” theology of Communion.  We don’t quite rise to the level of Roman Catholics, but we’re pretty close.  For us, when Jesus said, “This IS my body,” “This IS my blood,” we believe he meant it.  It is more than a symbol for us. Somehow, someway, in a mystery known only to God, Jesus is truly present, (to use the Lutheran phrase) “in, with and under” the bread and wine.

Therefore, we treat the elements of Communion with great respect. Once worship is over, the “leftover” elements are either consumed, stored with care, or returned to the earth from which they came.  Many sacristies (the room where worship supplies and vestments are stored) have special sinks, with drains that go directly into the ground, separate from other plumbing, so that while cleaning communion vessels, the elements are indeed returned to the earth.

artisan-challah-bread2)  Communion at the Easter Vigil is different in my husband’s congregation.  It is the one worship service in the whole year when they don’t use standard wafers for Holy Communion – regular bread is used instead.  The congregation uses Challah to celebrate the resurrection, since that is the Jewish bread used on the Sabbath and holy days.  Practice for the chalice, however, stays the same.  The congregation uses a chalice for wine and another for grape juice, and folks are able to either drink directly from the chalice or dip the bread into it (called intinction).

Okay – set up is done…

I am a mother AND a pastor but I try mostly to be “just mom” to my kids, injecting pastor stuff only when necessary. They need space from church, just like me.  Once in a while, however, the pastor takes over.  This happened the night before Easter, at my husband’s Easter Vigil worship service.  I had no formal role in this service, except that of mom, which was fine with me.  I sat with my son and was a proud mama for my two daughters who were helping with worship.  Everything was wonderful – the candlelight, chanting and readings, redressing the altar, the smell of the flowers – – – until Communion.

My son and I knelt next to one another at the communion rail and received Jesus’ body from my husband (remember Challah bread, not wafers).  I ate immediately as is my custom and received the chalice with wine.  My son, as is HIS custom, held the bread then dipped it in the grape juice. Thankfully my teenage daughter was a chalice-bearer, because lost in my own thoughts and prayers with my eyes closed I didn’t notice what was happening.  My daughter leaned over to me and whispered, “Mom! Help him, he looks like he’s going to throw up!”  I looked and my poor son was GAGGING. Gagging on Jesus!  He had a look of horror on his face as his hand covered his mouth.

lilies“I can’t!” he managed in a panicked whisper.  In twenty years of ordained ministry nothing like this had EVER happened to me before.  Think quick!  Think quick!  I took his free hand and quickly led him out of the worship space and through the narthex (fancy word for foyer) and he started to turn towards the stairs and bathrooms.  I said, “NO WAY.  You come with me,” and we walked straight outside into the dark cold night.  I told him, “Spit it out here.”  The poor kid bent over and out onto the ground came Jesus, in the middle of the blooming lilies by the church doors.  Once my son composed himself, before we went back inside, he and I sat and had a conversation about #1 above. The mom in me comforting him, the pastor in me wanting to make sure things were done properly and that he understood why I made him go outside and not to the bathroom.

Afterwards, when I was processing all of this I realized that it was my son’s first Easter Vigil as a communicant.  He had never had Challah and grape juice together before.  Obviously they’re a BAD combination for him!  So he and I also decided that next year should receive communion in “one kind.”  (Lutherans are pretty adamant to have the body AND blood for distribution, but people are free to abstain from one or the other.  Another pastoral/personal conversation – my poor son!)

My kids always keep me on my toes – as a mom AND as a pastor.  Just when I think I’ve seen it all…

5th Sunday of Easter, 2015

5th Sunday of Easter, year B, 2015 (preached 5/3/15)

first reading:  Acts 8:26-40

Psalm 22:25-31

second reading:  1 John 4:7-21

gospel reading:  John 15:1-8


Today we celebrate a very happy occasion – the first Holy Communion of L___.

We didn’t look ahead of time at what the readings would be when we chose today as the date, but they’re perfect!  Thank you Holy Spirit!

Today we hear about sharing the Word, bearing fruit – and what that fruit looks like.  And this relates wonderfully to the gift we receive of Christ in Holy Communion.

In our first reading we have one of my favorite stories, and one that has brought me much comfort through the years.  The story of Philip and the Ethiopian.  Philip is called to share the gospel with this man who is searching for truth – and we have a baptism, the sacrament by which we are brought into the faith.

In our gospel Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches, that we abide in him and he in us – and that we are pruned so that we can bear much fruit.

But what does it mean to bear fruit?  Ahhh…  This we find in our second reading.  And it is easily summed up in one word – LOVE.

It rolls off our tongue so quickly.  It’s so small – deceptively small, because love is no small thing at all. In fact, love is the most important thing there is.

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  Sounds A LOT like our gospel reading – all this “abiding.”

Jesus talks about us abiding in him and he in us – and our second reading talks about abiding in love/God and love/God abiding in us.

“Abide” is a verb.  It means to accept or act in accordance with a rule or decision.  To comply with, follow, heed, conform to or stand by.

So abiding in Jesus, abiding in love, isn’t something that “describes” our relationship – it’s something we DO, and something God DOES – and that thing is LOVE.

But what does it mean to love?  How do we love in a world that seems so filled with hate and intolerance and disrespect?

It seems every time I turn on the news some new awful thing is happening – events caused and made worse by our human ability to be cruel to one another instead of loving.  Either that or we’re confronted with natural disasters where we feel paralyzed by the destruction and death.

As with all things, we start with Christ.  WE love because he first loved us.  So what does Jesus’ love look like?  How does Jesus “do” love?

He talked about love, but he also fed the hungry, healed the sick, welcomed and stood with those who were deemed “unclean” or unworthy by the religious authorities.  He challenged those religious authorities when they were more concerned with rules than with people.

novgorod-icons18And even as he hung on the cross he forgave them and all of us.  We have the cross as the supreme act of love – he died so that we could live.

Jesus saw us, little children, playing in the street, ignorant of the danger of the approaching car of sin – and pushed us out of its path, even though he knew it would cost him his own life.  Because that’s what love does, it gives itself for the other.

But before he would journey to that cross, Jesus gave us another gift – as if the cross wasn’t enough (which it most certainly was).

Jesus gave us the gift we celebrate today – the gift L___ will receive for the first time – the gift of Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the sacrament of the altar.

Even as he knew he was being betrayed, Jesus gave the disciples, and you and me, this mysterious wonderful holy thing, in which he becomes present for us and gives us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

IMG_1925

This is what love is.  This is how we “do” love.  By giving ourselves for one another.  By acting in ways that show respect and deep care for the well-being of the other.

We may not always like each other.  We may not even KNOW each other.  But real love – the God abiding in us and we in God kind of love – is love that acts without thinking if the other deserves it.

We may bicker with each other, even dislike one another, but I know for a fact that when someone is in true need here, we rally.  That is love.

We see riots on tv – but we also see people helping one another, forming lines against the violent to protect the police, each other and one another’s businesses – and we pray for ALL involved, that peace will prevail and that people can respect one another and see Jesus in the other.  That is love.

We see suffering in Nepal, people we don’t know and will never meet, and yet we’re compelled to send what we can to help them recover “because he first loved us.”  That is love.

We give of our time and financial means to help folks locally too, and see Jesus’ face in the face of our neighbors.  And we welcome everyone into our midst, with whatever baggage “they” bring, however different “they” are from us, with whatever questions and doubts “they” have – because we see Jesus abiding in “them,” just as Jesus abides with us.  That is love.

Love is the thing that binds all of us together – so that in the end there is NO “they” and “them” – only “US,” growing out of God’s love for us.

A love Jesus showed every day of his earthly life, most especially on the cross, and in giving us the gift of Holy Communion.

May we be constantly reminded how we abide in that love, and how that love abides in us, both now and forever.

AMEN.

Communion

Holy Communion is one of the joys of my life – both as a presider and as a communicant.  The comfort and strength I receive from the sacrament are immeasurable.  The closeness I feel to Jesus when I receive him in the bread and wine is palpable.  I didn’t think it was possible that my comprehension and appreciation for this great gift could get any deeper, but it has in the most unexpected way.

In December my oldest child became an assisting minister at my husband’s congregation (my congregation of membership too, but not the congregation where I serve).  The assisting minister processes with the pastor, reads the scripture during worship, leads the congregation in many prayers, and assists with the distribution of Holy Communion as one of the chalice-bearers.  I was armed with my camera, poised to take unobtrusive pictures when appropriate.  I’m a proud mama!

I had decided that I would receive the chalice from my daughter to show her my support.  I knelt at the altar, hands outstretched to hold the chalice, but when the time came I was quite unprepared for what happened.  She came to me – this daughter who I carried, this child who I nursed, this girl who I held as she cried through the worst times of her life – and said, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”  And I almost broke down.  The weight of that moment, profound in its words, but most of all in the young woman before me who spoke them, was almost unbearable.  I was shaken, not in fear, but by hearing the gospel given to me by my daughter.  Suddenly our roles were completely reversed.  I was kneeling before her.  I was receiving the Lord from her.  I was the needy one, looking up, waiting to be nourished.

I would like to say it was awesome – but that word is too overused in our culture, and has come to mean something more akin to “great” or “fantastic!”  So I’ll say the experience filled me with awe:  awe for the life-journey of the young woman who fed me, and awe for our God who comes to us anew in the most unexpected times and places. It was a strong reminder to me of how God works through each one of us, using our strengths and our weaknesses. How the seemingly weakest/smallest/least significant among us can play a tremendous role.  How the young can teach the old,  the weak lift up the strong, the marginalized preach to the strong.  We are a motley group, we Christians.  Struggling with sin, kneeling equally before the altar as beggars, and receiving the body and blood of forgiveness.

Of course I knew all this before.  It’s not like I didn’t know that we’re equal before God, or that I could learn and receive from my children.  But once in a while, when our hearts and spirits are open, we can experience an old, well-worn thing, a beautiful gift, a wonderful treasure, with fresh perspective.  Like finding a new detail in a favorite painting.  And all we can do when we have this experience is let it flow over us – and thank God.

my daughter recessing at the end of worship with my husband

my daughter recessing at the end of worship with my husband

Thursday in Holy Week

Thursday in Holy Week (the week preceding Easter) is the beginning of what is referred to as the Triduum (three days).  The Triduum remembers the events of of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, culminating in the great celebration of Easter – Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  Each day of the Triduum has its own special focus and meanings, but while there are three services of the Triduum, they are really considered part of a whole – one continuous worship that takes us from betrayal to resurrection.

The first day of the Triduum is Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday.  The word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning “commandment,” referring to one of the main themes of the day – Jesus’ new commandment for us to love one another.  On this day we focus on three main themes:  the gift of the Eucharist (Holy Communion),  foot washing, and Jesus’ betrayal.

imageOn Maundy Thursday Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples.  The connection with Passover is profound. In the Passover, Jews remember how God “passed over” the plague of the death of the first born while they were slaves in Egypt – using the blood of a sacrificed lamb as a sign to save them.  When Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, he took bread and gave thanks, and told them that the bread was his body, given for them.  Then he took a cup of wine, gave thanks, and told them that cup was the “new covenant” in his blood, shed for them for the forgiveness of sin.  Jesus becomes the lamb sacrificed, to save us from the plague of death – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

 

 

Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)

Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)

On this night Jesus did something truly surprising and offensive to the disciples.  In Jesus’ time feet were filthy things.  A dusty dry climate and a sandal wearing society meant feet were not pretty.  To wash ones feet was a dirty job, and to wash someone else’s feet was truly demeaning.  During this night, Jesus took a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet!  Peter, especially, protested.  This was NOT something their master should be doing!  But Jesus said he was doing it to be an example to them of how they should serve one another.  If the master does this for the servants, how much more should the servants do this for one another!  Jesus goes so far as to chastise Peter, saying, if you DON’T do this you have no share in the kingdom (John 13:8).  This is when Jesus gives us the new commandment to love one another (John 13:34-35).  Love in action.  Love as a verb.

 

10986955_590811741021294_6507141854885960391_nMaundy Thursday ends with Jesus’ betrayal and arrest.  Jesus, who was given such honor by the people, is stripped, literally and figuratively.  He is arrested and brought before the religious authorities who were threatened by his power.  He commits the ultimate blasphemy by speaking God’s unspeakable name – in English translated as “I am.”  God’s name is SO holy it is never to be spoken, this is why the chief priest rips his clothing as a sign of utter grief and offense.  As Jesus was stripped in that time and place, WE strip the altar of our churches.  The altar is one of the places we focus our attention during worship.  We want our altars to be places of beauty and honor and significance, worthy of our attention to prayer and the Sacrament we celebrate there.  But on Maundy Thursday the space becomes bare.  The whole chancel (altar area) is “undone” just as Jesus is undone.

 

It’s a lot to go through in one evening.    The events of the three days start fast and furious.  To give us time to let it all sink in, the worship ends in silence.  No parting prayer, no benediction, no hymn.  There is nothing that tells people that worship is over – partly because it’s NOT.  As I said at the beginning, the three services of the Triduum are really part of one continuous worship – a watching that has begun on Thursday and will not end until we hear and proclaim “He is risen!” on Sunday morning.