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…
1) 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.
2) 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.
“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…