Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Bread and Wine

Basically, I was, back then, and still am a conservative. I believe in the currency of many old-fashioned values and skeptical of wild-eyed liberals who carry a grudge against what once was. But then, I'm skeptical of wild-eyed people of any persuasion.

Years ago, someone put my name up to be a member of a denominational committee created to look into allowing children to partake of the Lord's Supper. I may well have been more fundamentally conservative than any one on that committee, but some were sure the church would not survive if children would continue to be barred. 

What I remember best about that committee work was another committee member, a preacher, saying in our first meeting that change would be difficult when it comes to the Lord's Supper because "communion" may well be the one thing people in our fellowship would call sacred. If all of life is religion, as some of my confessional brothers and sisters like to say, then no one thing can be.

Except, this preacher said, the Lord's Supper. People are going to have especially strong feelings about how they do the bread and the wine.

Maybe that's why I was a little surprised when a local pastor served up the Lord's Supper in the old folks home where my father-in-law is a resident. A friend who used to pastor an old folks home told me the Missouri Synod Lutherans told him they couldn't approve of the Eucharist being done in any other way than their own. Thus, no, he should cease and desist from doing communion. 

Once upon a time some in the Reformed family would have similarly frowned upon the table, the elements, being done so freely, not being supervised by proper church authorities. 

But the sacrament got done that Sunday a couple of weeks ago. The pastor had a woman along to help (that could have been a problem too). Dad's Home is the last its residents will ever have. It's a lovely place, a kind and caring place; but no one leaves there alive. So less than half of those wheeled in that Sunday afternoon probably had a clue what was going on, despite the fact that they'd taken communion for most of their 90 years. 

Here and there, nurses and aids helped some participants take-and-eat. Some simply didn't bother. When that woman elder tried to put a thimble full of grape juice in front of a woman just a few feet away from me, the nurse smiled and waved her off. Some residents slept through. 

It wasn't perfect. It wasn't awesome or sweetly sentimental. I'm not about to dispense a description that will have you reaching for Kleenex. 

But then, neither was the sermon. It was delivered well under the circumstances, out and up front, away from the podium as if the young pastor wanted to be sure that what he was saying made it into the minds of the people to whom he'd come to minister. 

It was a wonderful homily, but my father-in-law can't hear you if you're more than five feet away and shouting. I'm sure he didn't catch a word of it, and any cursory look around the room would have suggested he wasn't the only one left unconnected. Billy Sunday couldn't have done any better.

But for those of us who did partake, for me at least, the sacrament was a touch of the divine, not because people were remarkably moved by their participation, not because they wept or shed tears at drinking that thimble-full of wine. It seemed wonderful to me because that communion was so shockingly tactile, so much of the senses. The Lord's Supper tastes and smells in a fashion not even a stemwinder sermon can. Some may want to argue the old Reformation line and say that it's not the real body and blood; but whatever it is, it's vital. You can hold it in your hands. You can eat it and drink it.

And for some residents, maybe even for Dad, it was something they could take home, something they understood. I can't imagine he heard or understood much of the warm homily, but when he had the elements in his fingers, he participated.

Something about that I loved. It was wonderful, a blessing. It was what the Lord's Supper should be. It was sacred.

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