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Take-Out Neon Sign in a New York deli

Communion in the City

Take-Out Neon Sign in a New York deli

Sign in a New York deli

There’s a story, a myth perhaps, about a congregation that stopped all activities during Lent. That season they gathered for Sunday worship, and then the pastor and elders visited the homes of everyone in the congregation to serve communion. They held no meetings and no rehearsals – only worship on Sundays and in homes.

Anytime I complained to a former colleague about how busy my church was she would tell me this story. The idea is wonderful, but one that would take tremendous planning and congregational buy-in. Neither I nor the congregation I now serve was ready for this kind of endeavor, but the story got me thinking about communion and Lent in new ways.

During Lent in 2014, I invited the congregation I serve to join me for “Communion in the City.” Each Wednesday evening we gathered in a public space for fellowship and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. During the five weeks that we met, we broke bread at two different Panera Bread restaurants, the mall food court, a McDonald’s, and a downtown outdoor space. Read more

A Prayer for the End of Nursing

After Mother and Child, lithograph by Pablo Picasso (1905); charcoal drawing by Austin Shelley (1999)

After Mother and Child, lithograph by Pablo Picasso (1905); charcoal drawing by Austin Shelley (1999)

O Lord, you have searched me
and known me.

You knew the moment when that sweet baby skin
first touched my chest
when that sweet little mouth
gaped like a fish
when that shocking moment of connection was made:
Mother. Child. One.
You knew.

You knew the struggles, and the pain.
The mostly sleepless nights
The one- (two-) (three-) (three-thirty-) a.m. wake-up calls.
The disconcerting, disorientating, barely-functioning
delirium/delusion/hallucination/exasperation/rage…
And still
the sweet baby skin and the gaping little mouth
the instant peace and the murmuring suckling.
You knew.

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When Tradition Becomes Commonplace

communion-cup-square

I suppose a pastor’s favorite holiday should be either Christmas or Easter…but truth be told, I love Thanksgiving. I have fond memories of waking up in morning and lazing around the house in my pajamas while the smell of turkeys filled the house. Did you catch that? I said turkeys: my parents always made one to keep at home (and snack on a bit…you know, just some quality control) and another to bring to my aunt and uncle’s house for the family meal. My mother would bake trays of homemade rolls and apple, pumpkin and coconut pies. Our house was full of warmth and scents of family togetherness during Thanksgiving.

One year I convinced my mother to make a crumble topping for the apple pie instead of her usual flaky crust. I thought it would be a fun, welcomed change that would give us all something different to enjoy. Unfortunately, she never heard the end of the grumbling and comments about it. Even to this day, I feel bad for the innocent suggestion, though it gave us time to bond over baking. I guess there are just some things that you can never change.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.”
Mark 14: 22-25 (Common English Bible)

On the first Sunday of each month, my congregation gathers around the Lord’s Table for communion. There are always the familiar elements: the small square pieces of cut bread, plastic cups full of grape juice, a silver chalice with juice already evenly poured out, and a round piece of bread on the paten. White linen adorns the table so that everything is covered just so.

On my first Easter with the congregation, I invited all of the worshipers to come forward to break off a piece of bread from a common loaf and partake of an individual cup of juice. There was some confusion as our “decently and in order” Presbyterianism made walking forward and partaking of the meal in this new way an over-thought process. I love the imagery of coming forward to the Table but, like anything, there were a few who said, “That was, well, nice,” trailing off in their comment with a smile.

The more I think about it, the more I wrestle with the fact that the Lord’s Supper is not just a nice meal that we celebrate because Jesus told us to do so. It was Passover and he chose to be with his closest twelve companions instead of the crowds he so often embraced. The simple bread and cup were the last communal meal to touch his lips before his betrayal, torture and death on the cross. I don’t mean to downplay that sacred moment.

Do we ever stop to think that the meal that we eat is the last meal of a man who was executed by political leaders? The bread that we eat and the cup that we drink, even the words that we say, are a part of the final hours of a man deemed a criminal by the Roman and religious powers of his day? Jesus was such a threat that those with power and privilege believed that the last resort, crucifixion, had to be taken or their political and religious leadership was at risk. If we dare to partake of communion weekly or monthly, we are defying the political prowess of our own day by testifying that we are governed by a different, holy power, too. We believe that neither execution nor death will ever have the last say for the one whom we call Messiah.

We could celebrate communion in our congregations and deem it nothing more than a holy tradition that feeds us to face the daily challenges of life. We could yearn for the familiarity of a Table with the same elements time and time again. I suppose that is reason enough for us, sometimes. But on those days when we need more, when God needs more from us, the Table reminds us that God is about anything but simple traditions. The story expands, tables turn, and a meal is transformed into a countercultural revolution that alters history over and over again.

The Marital Politics of Communion and A Letter to Our Son

My husband grew up Catholic.  He still tells his mother he claims dual-citizenship as Catholic and Lutheran.  As part of our decision to get married, we made a decision that we value worshipping together as a family.  My husband joyfully joined the Lutheran church, with the full support of his parents.  However, the things we grew up with have a way of affecting us as adults, even if we think we’ve made a conscious decision.  This has become clear to us as we try to make decisions about our toddler son David’s faith life.  Our denominational policy on communion is that you can have communion as soon as you’re baptized, normally when you can have solid food, but local custom varies widely.

medium_169252325On Sunday mornings, as my husband would bring our son up the aisle for communion, he would smile and happily kick his legs.  Maybe because he saw his Mom, and maybe because he wanted bread.  Then he would look sad when he did not get held by Mom OR get bread.  Around 13 months he stopped coming to the table with that joy he once had, and it broke my heart.  So, we started a discussion in our home about giving David communion.

It was complicated.  At one point, my husband threw up his hands, and loudly said, “Only when you are married to a pastor does when to give your child communion become a martial conflict!”  Since he grew up Catholic, he never imagined he could be married to a pastor.  Most days this gives him joy, but not all days.  After talking and praying, we finally agreed to give our son communion on All Saint’s Sunday.  David is named partly for my father who passed away, but gave me a good foundation of faith before his death.  We thought this might be a meaningful way to honor his role in the faith of our family.

Below is the letter I composed to my son on the day of his first communion.  It lays out some of the reasons we made the decision that we made.  Most children in our congregation take communion already, so we periodically offer “New to Communion” class with graduation on Maundy Thursday.

 

All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dear David,

Today you had your first communion.  Tomorrow you will turn 14 months old.  You’ve been stealing bread from Daddy for awhile, but today you got your own during communion.  (Sometimes, before, you got your own after.)  I know you are young, but here is what I want you to know:

  1.  You can always come to Jesus with a huge smile kicking your legs excitedly.  You come to mommy at communion this way now.
  2. Jesus is a good place to go when you are hungry.  Remember that when you know communion is more then a snack.
  3. Jesus is a great place to have a break or to change what you’re doing.  You love getting out the pew with Daddy and coming up front.
  4. Jesus can fill you up with good and yummy things.  In our current church, we use real bread at communion.
  5. Jesus loves and cares for your whole being, including your body and stomach.

These are things you can know about Jesus and communion now.  You will know more later, and will always be on a journey of learning more about Jesus and your faith and the amazing promises of forgiveness and new life we have in Jesus.  It is okay that you don’t understand everything now – none of us understand everything.

Mommy’s heart soared today when I gave you the bread and said “Body of Christ, Given for You”.  Your eyes lit up and you were so excited.  I hope you will, most of the time, always be this excited to experience Jesus.

I love you so very much my son, and God loves you even more.  You are a blessed and loved Child of God for always.  Jesus came for everyone, including you.  I love you with all my heart and pray that you will be strengthened though the gifts of Christ’s body and blood now and always.

Love,

Pastor Mommy (Daddy has you call me this sometimes.)

P.S.  We decided on All Saints Day in honor of your Grandpa David who is with God now, but is watching and encouraging your faith journey from there.

 

 

i  Paraphrase of: The Use of the Means of Grace: A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament, Adopted for guidance and practice by the Fifth Biennial Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, August 19, 1997.  Accessed PDF Feburary 18, 2013 from http://www.elca.org/Growing-In-Faith/Worship/Learning-Center/The-Use-of-the-Means-of-Grace.aspx, pp.  39-41

Election Day Communion

“Election Day Communion- Tuesday,  Nov 6 at 12:15PM in the upper chapel. As our nation goes to the polls, let us gather at God’s table- not as Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, but as brothers and sisters in Christ”.

“Election Day Communion- Tuesday,  Nov 6 at 12:15PM in the upper chapel- As our nation goes to the polls, let us gather at God’s table to celebrate that we are all one in Christ”.

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