Every Sunday, it’s the communion line that gets to me. The rest of worship keeps me a comfortable distance from the people, veritably fenced off by the altar rail, hemmed in by the stone pulpit walls. I can see the congregation and they can see me, but we Lutherans like to sit at least six pews from the front, just in case the service goes over an hour and we need to dine-and-dash at the Lord’s Supper.
But at communion, the people and I are in close proximity, both to each other and to the divine. It’s unnerving, and whether I am trying to find it or not, there is always a moment where I’m undone by this intimacy. Yesterday, for example, I handed a wafer to the developmentally disabled man who’d been banned from church by his case worker last fall because he kept calling me to ask me out. He was back yesterday, with a friend, and he took the wafer from me timidly, as if he wasn’t sure the forgiveness it offered applied between us.
Yesterday also, a woman came through the line crying. It happens almost every week, looking into the eyes of God’s people, that I see fresh tears. And yesterday, there were many tears because I’d just preached about the mystery of God’s plan and the life of the 6 week old child we’d buried last week. My own eyes sprung up with living water as I handed her the wafer, and choked out the words “the body of Christ, given for you”. After worship, she shared that the two bodies found this weekend are her son’s in-laws. “I thought I was okay until you started preaching,” she said.
Isn’t that the best thing that church teaches us? That we are not okay out in the world on our own, even if we are determined to make it seem to others like we are. We need each other, and we need hope and love without conditions. We might make it through the rote words of confession at the beginning of church without plumbing our own sinfulness, but we cannot get through the communion line without our hearts breaking wide open.
When we stand eye to eye with the pastor or a lay leader, and hear again the unlikely offer of Jesus’ body and blood “for you”, there’s no escape. We are stuck in the horrifying knowledge of our unworthiness, even as we are handed the free pass of God’s grace. If we are lucky, it will be an intinction Sunday where we can return to our seats before anyone notices we’ve been flayed by this simple meal.
It never gets old, this part of worship, because for every piece of bread we break in Jesus’ name there is a corresponding broken heart needing its nourishment. For every sip of wine taken from the dripping cup, there is a bleeding heart which is staunched by the firmness of God’s hands. This is why Jesus told us to “do this” every time we gather, to remember that we are fully known and fully loved.
This is why I love communion even when it hurts.