Last Saturday evening our church, like many other churches around the world, celebrated the ordinance of communion, or The Lord’s Supper, as it is known to some.
Most people don’t know all the work that goes into communion, in terms of the filling of the cups, the placement of the trays on the altar, the orderly serving of the seated congregation, and even the devotional that usually accompanies it. In our church, the elders are responsible to receive the communion trays from the pastor, and to walk the aisles, serving the congregation in their seats. Responsibility for the devotional falls to our senior pastor, but he likes to include the other pastors and even the more reliable elders.
It should be noted that I am not one of the ‘reliable elders’; I have never yet officiated at the communion table, and I like it that way.
One of our elders is an intelligent, capable sort of man (I hope he doesn’t read this, ’cause it would give him a big head), who remembers his appointments and cares about details. He is usually given the task of rounding up a suitable number of elders to serve communion for the second service, and everything runs smoothly because of his attention.
In October, this all changed, when our church added a service on Saturday nights. I decided to support the Saturday service, and so (in spite of fierce opposition on the part of my traditionalist family) we now attend the worship service on Saturdays, and go to Sunday school on (when else?) Sunday mornings. (I don’t think ‘Saturday School’ will ever catch on.)
Our church uses the ‘single-pass’ trays, with the bread in the center, surrounded by the cups.
When it came time to serve communion this week, we were short on elders. There weren’t any other pastors in attendance, and there were only two ushers present (ushers are our usual fall-back). We need four men to properly serve our church; the only other likely candidate available was a man who is no longer active as an elder, but served for many years as the chairman of our board of elders. The problem was, he is also part of the worship team, and was standing, up on the platform, in front of the congregation.
Our pastor is crafty, though, and managed to alert him through repeated calls of Psssst! during the prayer, drafting him into communion service. I wonder what the worship leader thought of all the ‘Psssst-ing’ during his prayer?
But I digress.
I like serving communion. My heart is warmed by the smiles of the people on the aisle, as they receive the trays from my hand. I hold my breath with the parents, as their shoulders slump in relief, when the communion trays are successfully passed by their children without mishap. I enjoy the sacred, secretive look on people’s faces, as they are confronted with these tangible symbols of the awesome love of Christ, who gave up His life for them.
Kathy tells me that my children are sad when I’m not the one who passes the tray to them, and glad when I do. I guess it is sort of like the way that David and Sarah used to fight over who got to hold my left hand when walking through parking lots (they liked the hand with the ring on it). Hopefully Dave (the usher) won’t read this or be hurt by it.
For some reason, I often lose a communion tray. You’d think as a programmer, I could master this basic math: two hands, two trays. Two men serving a section of pews; a total of four hands, four trays. Pass ‘em down the first two rows, then move to the third and fourth rows to receive the other two trays, repeat until you’re out of rows. It is hardly rocket surgery.
But people don’t sit in an orderly fashion. (Personally, I think they do it on purpose.) Sometimes one couple will sit all the way to the left or right of an empty row, and so the server on that side has to serve them without actually passing the tray down the length of the row. By the time we got to the back of the church, I had only one tray, and there were only two visible in play. I frantically walked back up the rows of worshipers, but to no avail — the tray was gone.
Maybe this happens to keep me humble, or maybe there is a conspiracy among the ushers to embarrass me — I don’t know for sure. The tray was eventually located, and three of them ended up in my partner’s hands, which is always fun to watch. I tried to pretend as though one tray was all I had been given, and demurely made my escape through the swinging doors at the back of the sanctuary.
As I returned to sit for my family, the pastor read this passage from the first letter to the Church at Corinth:
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, â€œThis is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.â€ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, â€œThis cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.â€ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lordâ€™s death until he comes.
I’ve heard that passage read nearly every month since I was a little boy — and because of that, I tend to hear the King James version, which says: ” … this is my body, broken for you … “, whatever the pastor actually reads. I often shudder when I think of the horrible pain and anguish Jesus felt, as they nailed Him to that cross, and as the Father turned away from the sin that was placed upon His Son.
For some reason, this time, the words ‘on the night He was betrayed’ kept resounding through my head. I thought of the times I have been betrayed, and how my thoughts on those occasions were focused on vengeance, not grace. How could Jesus think of establishing a New Covenant for His disciples, knowing that the one who would betray Him, sat listening to His words?
“Is it I, Lord?”
As we begin this new year, and we think of all the disciplines we want to renew, it is easy to become ‘weary in well-doing’. I find it helpful to meditate on the deep, deep love of Jesus, who, even in a time of great personal anguish, still found the strength to purposefully and intentionally love me, almost two millenia before I was born.