As I watched someone pour Welches grape juice into a goblet, it occurred to me – not for the first time – that I don’t get it.
What am I missing?
When the sacrament of Holy Communion begins during a church service, I begin praying. I intentionally focus my heart and mind completely on God and the examination of my life, the confession of my sins, repentance, genuine and profound thanks for the sacrifice and redeeming blood of Christ. Then an usher steps next to my pew and my focus on intimate prayer is broken. I’m supposed to get up, walk to the front of the church and eat a piece of bread and drink grape juice out of a tiny plastic cup or dip the bread into a goblet. Like an Oreo in milk.
That may sound disrespectful, but if I’m honest, that’s what I think of when I do it. God already knows that’s in my head whether I type it out loud or not.
So here’s the question: Why does the sacrament of Holy Communion feel like an interruption to that intimate prayer instead of the culmination of it?
I don’t know.
I’ve been thinking about it and this is where my mind went:
When I was in junior high (these days they call it middle school), I went through two years of confirmation classes in the Lutheran church before I was allowed to take communion for the first time. My memory tells me we went through the same curriculum twice but I’m sure I’m wrong. It just felt like it.
The best part were the snacks. Those little flower shaped butter cookies with the hole in the middle that you could stick your fingers through so you could eat your way around them in circles.
But I digress.
I remember dreading confirmation class. They used words I never understood and they didn’t explain, like “Gospel of Jesus” and sacrament and catechism and sanctification and absolution.
Okay, to be fair, it’s likely they explained some of it, but they did a poor job, because I was not the only one going through the motions waiting for snack time. Most classes, there was lecture and then they told us what words to write in the fill-in-the-blank questions in our confirmation workbooks.
Then came the day the senior pastor visited our class. He told us a detailed and moving story about twins who were born prematurely. When he got to the part about one of them dying, we were all mesmerized. He was a great storyteller. This was so much more interesting than the lectures and workbook exercises.
The pastor said that a nurse came to the parents and told them that she was able to baptize the baby before he died. The parents were so relieved. Their baby was in heaven.
I had always been cheeky, but the senior pastor had always intimidated me. So formal. Robes, suits, perfect, immovable hair, manicured fingernails. All that, combined with the fact that so many people sat in complete silence to listen to him talk every Sunday morning and waited in line to shake his hand afterward. To top it all off? His name was Pastor Abram. That was just two letters away from Abraham. He was the ultimate authority on God at that time in my young life.
Until that moment.
At that moment, he lost his credibility with me. I realized this authority figure in my life was wrong.
Out came cheeky.
I may not remember the details of 2 years of confirmation classes, but I will remember for the rest of my life what I asked him that afternoon:
“Are you saying that if the nurse hadn’t sprinkled water on the baby’s head before he died and said ‘I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ that the baby would have gone to Hell?”
He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Yes.”
And I said, “Well, that’s stupid.”
You could have heard a pin drop. Every eye was on him.
He handled it with grace and evasiveness. He reminded me that I was young and explained that I didn’t understand. What he didn’t explain was how it wasn’t stupid. He didn’t refer me to a single Bible verse. Bibles weren’t necessary in confirmation class, just workbooks.
What was I too young to understand?
That Jesus’ death and resurrection weren’t enough to save a premature baby . . . but a nurse with tap water and the time to speak the words “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost” ensured the baby would spend eternity in heaven?”
I’m older now and I DO understand. If what Pastor Abram said was true, I didn’t need Jesus Christ. All I needed was a nurse with a glass of water who had the ability to speak out loud.
I didn’t learn much in confirmation class, but I learned that the ritual of baptism was meaningless compared to what Jesus did.
How does all this relate to Holy Communion?
Not sure yet. I’m still thinking about it.