I had an amazing experience last week. It was a spiritual experience that came out of the blue, completely unexpectedly. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I wonder if amazing spiritual experiences happen ONLY when we really aren’t expecting them? I think that may be true. They catch us unaware. They find the crack in our shell and they either seep in and surprise us or bust through and wallop us like Paul on the road to Damascus. This was more of a seeping in through the crack experience, but no less powerful for not being a wallop.
Although the week before last was supposed to be a week of vacation for me, it ended up being used primarily for personal maintenance, house maintenance, and taking my mother to doctor’s appointments. It’s not that I didn’t get any rest. I did. It’s that I didn’t do anything I wanted to do or have any fun. I did. But the reality was that it was more a week for catching up than renewal. Hey, at least I caught up a little bit.
Last week I returned to work with a new pile of tasks waiting to be tackled and issues old and new demanding immediate attention. I dove in and got a lot done, but I wasn’t exactly invigorated. The truth is that I was weighed down with worry and doubt and loss of vision (not a literal loss of vision, I see just fine – a loss of spiritual vision and direction.)
Thursday my entire day had been set aside to celebrate home communion with our shut-ins. When I got to the first home I was warmly welcomed. We chatted for a while about what was going on in our congregation, what we were reading, what was happening in the world, and then we transitioned into sharing the Lord’s Supper.
I’ve been at this pastor thing for a while, so I have most of the communion liturgy memorized. I started with a reading from scripture that was one of the assigned lectionary readings for the following Sunday. It was the story of Jesus asleep in the boat when a huge storm came up suddenly and threatened to drown him and his disciples. Even though the boat was already swamping (filling up with water for those who never took a boating safety class at camp), Jesus remained asleep until his disciples finally woke him up in terror of their immanent death. He calmed the sea and stilled the storm.
As I read this story out loud, I was personally struck by how it felt to be in a storm, a dangerous storm that appeared at least to be life-threatening. Sometimes in life it feels like there is a storm raging around us even the skies are blue and the breezes gentle. We feel tossed about as if we were in a small boat in deep water and we fear for our lives, or at least our sanity.
I was struck how in this story Jesus seemed to be oblivious. He was completely unaware of the danger his disciples faced. We have to go back and read what happened before Jesus and his disciples got into the boat to understand just how tired Jesus must have been. Fro days he had been surrounded by crowds who pressed him for healing and answers. By the time we get to this story, Jesus was so tired that he was asleep for the short boat trip across the lake. But the disciples woke him up and he made everything okay and then he questioned why they were afraid. It had seemed to them to be a matter of life and death, but Jesus saw no reason for them to be afraid.
I didn’t have a chance ponder that for very long, but moved into the invitation to the table. Then I began the part of the liturgy I do not have memorized. The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. Sometimes I use written prayers and sometimes I pray extemporaneously. For home communion I have a good and fairly short prayer in a book that I usually use and actually have been using for over twenty years. As I read/prayed this prayer, the familiar words both comforted me and jolted me into a fresh sense of awareness of the grace of God. I actually felt tingly as I remembered/relived what this sacrament is all about. I felt a spark of something move inside of me.
I always get something out of communion. I long for it. I hunger for it. I feel an empty space that only communion can fill. I cannot understand those who express reluctance to participate in communion or who want it to be something we do only occasionally. I grew up in a congregation that served communion quarterly. Yes, it was special and mystical, but I wouldn’t have called it a celebration. It was more about remembering the sacrifice Christ had made for us and the music in the service, although I suppose it was meant to feel contemplative, to me felt melancholy. It wasn’t until I joined a church as an adult that I was introduced to a true joyful celebration of this sacrament, and one that we celebrated on the first Sunday of every month as well as special occasions. I looked forward to those first Sundays – couldn’t wait in fact.
In seminary I had many more opportunities to participate in communion including a weekly service in our chapel on campus. Instead of draining the sacrament of its meaning with frequency, I found that I came to depend on the sacrament for essential sustenance. I don’t just desire it. I need it. Honestly, I would celebrate communion every single day if I could.
And yet, last Thursday I wasn’t expecting a tingly feeling. It felt like life was being rekindled inside me. I’m sure that when our shut-in thanked us for coming and for bringing communion I remarked that I had really needed it myself, but I don’t think she had a clue just how much I had needed it or how much it had done for me.
As the day went on and we celebrated this sacrament again and again, I felt myself get stronger and stronger. Each time I read the story of Jesus stilling the storm I felt the storm in my own life calmed. Each time I prayed that prayer of thanksgiving I reconnected with God who is the source of all life.
No, it didn’t release all my cares and woes. It didn’t solve any of the issues I was or am facing at the church or in my personal life. But it did revive me enough to go on. It reminded me in so much more than just an intellectual way of how much I depend on God to get out of bed every morning and face whatever the day throws at me and those around me.
We cannot separate our spiritual selves from our physical selves. These parts of us are completely intertwined. This is why we actually eat the bread and drink from the cup during communion instead of just talking about it. God loves us through and through – not just the good parts, not just the spiritual parts, all of us, every part. God wants us to be as fully alive as we can be, physically as well as spiritually.
It’s not about being perfect in the sense of having no flaw or weakness. It’s all about being perfect in the sense of having a purpose. That purpose is to glorify God and to enjoy God forever (as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us.)
So bring on that holy meal! Let us share the bread and the cup as often as possible. Let us remember what communion is about every time we eat and drink together, whether it is in a service of worship or a formal dinner party or supper with our family or friends. We all gotta eat in order to live.