1 Kings 8
22Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.
This is the ancient stance of prayer: arms lifted up to heaven. I don’t know when we changed it to heads bowed and hands folded. I have my suspicions.
This ancient stance of prayer with arms lifted is why the pastor or priest holds out his or her arms when saying the prayer over the bread and wine. There is something expansive about that posture, something especially appropriate to that great recital of God’s creative and redeeming work that culminates in the supper where the Christ of Nazareth and Capernaum and Jerusalem comes to us here. That prayer echoes God’s work of creating, his deliverance of Israel from Egypt, his ongoing address of humanity through the prophets, and his encounter with the world in Jesus. It speaks the promise of a world redeemed, a world freed from its violence and gathered at one table. A world where the human community is restored and bread is shared. It is an expansive story. It is right for our hands to be raised.
Folded hands and bowed heads embody a very different set of emotions: introspection rather than praise, humility rather than joy, the self rather than the world.
Kneeling for communion in an often windowless room has us looking down, looking inward; such a moment is personal, between God and myself. Communion standing in a circle beneath a great canopy of trees – or the vaulted ceiling of a Gothic cathedral – gives you a very different experience, especially if the community is holding hands as they await the bread. Better yet if they are also singing.
It’s true that Communion is about God and me; God has something important to say to each of us in that moment the bread is placed in our hands. But communion is also about God and us. And, most importantly, it is about God and the world. This bread and wine are not only a promise of the forgiveness of my sins; they promise the forgiveness of the world. It speaks of my redemption and our redemption. I am invited to share God’s table; but God is also casting his nets into the world to gather all creation to his banquet of life.