So this is my communion hymn. I want to sit beside you at the feast, my friend. Again, again, and again.– Andrew Peterson
Wednesday mornings, 6:30 am. The early years of this decade.
I sit in the foyer sipping coffee, on the old wooden pew painted blue. Or is it green? The stone St. Francis is my only company, bird on hand, waiting. Will will arrive soon. He’s been working for hours already, and will use his break to join me and the others in The Meal– The sacred one that has brought us together since before the beginning. Ironically, it’s also the one that sometimes tears us apart.
When we were out from under the shadow, became creative in ways we always said we wanted to be. We asked questions of ourselves about The Meal, and how we observe it. There was agreement that we could change how we had done it in the past, but disagreement in how we would change it. Particular tension arose over how often it would be served. This is not unusual in churches. Some churches want it to be “less than” it is to other churches. They refer to The Meal as “just.”
“Just” an ordinance.
“Just” Welch’s. (Those who use wine usually don’t say “Just.”)
“Just” something we do.
These “Just” churches usually just observe it every two or three months.
Such was the case in the church I grew up in. Ironically, though, its infrequency, which was designed to put The Meal in its place– behind evangelism and revivals and sermons and the “more important” things of faith– served instead to elevate The Meal in my mind and spirit. It became a bigger deal than the Gatekeepers wanted it to be.
I wanted it to be every week, on Sundays, front and center. We were known in years past for so many things a church should never be known for. Why couldn’t we now be known as the church that eats The Meal every week?
Those who don’t want it to be every week cite fears of it losing its “specialness.” My response is twofold. First, in the words of my friend Aaron, “The early Church must not have wanted it to be special at all, since they seemed to do it all the time.” Second, I’ve yet to hear anyone suggest we go several Sundays in a row without taking up offering or preaching a sermon so that they can be more “special” than what they currently are.
As you can guess, my snark didn’t help my cause.
But we do come to a compromise. We will observe Communion during the service on the first Sunday of each month, which is an increase from doing it whenever we realize that it has been a long time since the last time we did it. And we will have a short Communion service every Wednesday, which brings me to sitting in the foyer, sipping coffee on the wooden pew painted blue, or is it green?, waiting on Will.
I assume the early start time will only attract a small amount of people. It has, and I am ok with that. It is my middle finger to the concept that more numbers equal more “success.” But those who arrive, week after week, (aside from Will and me,) are not those who I expected.
They are students. Undergraduates.
They were Freshmen in 2010. Some have been here since the beginning. Some arrived, shopped around, then landed at UBC as sophomores and juniors. Many are roommates. Most go to the same Mi Casa. Some have dated, or are dating, others in the group. Tyler, Austin, Rachel, Hannah, Chad, Marshall, Clint, Conlan. There are a handful of them, and they bring life to me through their yawns and stretches.
They arrive, get coffee and we all go to the piano room. Some days we sing hymns. There are Bibles on the table in front of us. We take turns reading lectionary passages. Sometimes Torah or Prophet. Usually a Gospel. Always a Psalm. I read selections from the unofficial UBC canon of authors. A good amount of Willard, Foster and Buechner. Some Lamott. A lot of Barbara Brown Taylor and Eugene Peterson.
We pray. Like the old-time churches many of us came from, we keep a UBC prayer list. We pray for families expecting children and for newborns. We pray for our own families and for ourselves. We remember tragedies that pile up like hoarder’s newspapers. We pray “Our Father….”
Usually we read the words from the Apostle…. “For I received from the Lord what I also handed to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed…” Sometimes we replace that with the stories of Jesus feeding the masses, or of turning the water into wine at the wedding party. Always, at the end, we walk to the middle of the room, tear the body, dip it in the blood, take and eat.
We sit down and there is silence for a few moments. If I may be so bold, Holy Silence. Usually a few seconds, sometimes a long minute filled with eternities. It is broken when someone realizes they have a test, or study group. We disperse, return, then disperse again before returning.
It may be the one thing helping me keep Faith.
In hope and in heartache, I am home.