I couldn’t serve communion today and I missed it. I am at the tail end of a cold and didn’t want to risk coughing with bread in my hands and people’s open hands before me. But I wanted to serve today. It is not a task to me; it is a privilege. The word of grace in the sermon, the song of praise in the prayers, the grace made visible in the bread, it is all part of the movement of God to embrace us and draw us into his grace and life. So to preach the sermon and say the prayers but not serve the meal is a sacrifice for me. The only metaphor I can think of is getting the present and wrapping the present, but not being there to see it opened. But it is deeper than that, more profound. Something about the link between heaven and earth and all creation that is present in the bread.
So I sat at the side and watched, which is wonderful, too. The collection of people. The children who run forward and the seniors who walk cautiously. The hesitation about whether there is still room at the rail to kneel. Families that try to be together as they receive.
I don’t understand it all. I just know it is there. Deep and abiding. All the best power of ritual – an act that connects us through time and space with one another and something larger than ourselves.
And all the rich layers of meaning. Story upon story are woven into the sharing of bread. Israel receiving manna in the wilderness. The five loaves and two fish feeding five thousand. The bread broken at the Last Supper. Elijah nourished by the angel on his journey to Sinai. Abraham beseeching the three heavenly visitors. Moses and the seventy breaking bread with God on Mount Sinai. There are more stories than we can name.
And all the rich layers of human experience that are tied up in the sharing of bread. Family meals at Thanksgiving, festive banquets at birthday parties, a sandwich purchased for a homeless man, a lunch shared in the second grade, first dates at an ice-cream parlor, wedding banquets be they elegant or baked ziti in a VFW hall – it is all woven into this moment where the promise that God will bring the day when all are gathered at one table is made visible, and the call to live in and from that promise is spoken in a message deeper than words.
Something profound happens with the giving and receiving of this bread, something more than I can explain. There is no other word to use than ‘holy’. What happens is sacred. Even when we don’t see it.
But I know it’s there. And I missed not being able to serve.