“Fingerprints On the Chalice1
Luke 22:14-20
Dr. Robert J. Anderson
February 1, 2015

  

Ever wonder what goes on at the Communion Table?  When we think about Communion, we need to avoid the weakness of trying to standardize things.  We need to avoid trying to nail down exactly what happens to the bread and juice/wine.  We need to avoid nailing down what happens to the worshipper each time he/she participates in Communion.

 

I don't think we all get a big bang out of Communion each time we take it.  Our responses aren't standardized.  Our response depends on our mood, the weather, our personal histories, or whether we are with our home congregation or with strangers.  Each person is different; so each Communion experience is different.

 

Real people come to Communion.  Real people like you and me: real people with bunions and bruises, tempers and teardrops, with histories and heartaches; real people whose cars wouldn't start because they left the lights on, whose English muffins get stuck in the toaster just like mine do, who forget to spring ahead and fall back (then arrive at church late -- or is it early?); real people who try hard to know God but can't seem to in the way their more saintly friends do, who want to follow the Golden Rule but find it hard to love their neighbor when the neighbor's dog hasn't read the Golden Rule and has defiled the front lawn.

 

When I picture Communion, I think of people with big noses, fly-away hair, strange eyes, wrinkles and birthmarks and warts.  I imagine people, each person unique and individual.

 

Let me paint a picture for you today of a Communion that might be going on somewhere.  The pastor stands in front of the congregation.  She or he looks like a judge in their black robe.  He is short and overweight, but even so the robe is too short for him; it barely hangs below the knees.  It's warm and perspiration threatens to make the glasses slide down the nose every time her head is tilted forward and down.  The congregation is ready to receive Communion.

 

There is a lady with a scarf on her head.  She looks like a babushka, a Russian grandmother, or like a migrant worker getting ready to pick melons in the hot California sun, but she is just a regular middle class working woman.  Under the scarf she wears there is no hair; she is a bald as a billiard ball from chemotherapy following a mastectomy, a breast removed by surgery, the only way to deal with her cancer.  Her long, thin fingers reach for the bread from the much thicker fingers of the pastor.  Her hands shake as she reaches forward, cradling one hand in the other offering it support.  She doesn't remember the juice or the blessing; all she hears is her name and the words "My body for you" as if fresh for the first time.  "My body for you."  She bites down alternately on the bread and on her lower lip as the tears begin like a sudden summer shower.

 

There are two little girls, 7 and 8 with pigtails.  They giggle into their palms as they look at the minister's shoes.  The 8 year old whispers to the other one, "I told you there was a penny in his shoes."  They looking down are caught off guard as the minister hands them the bread and juice.  They flash sweet smiles which seem to say thank you and the minister smiles back.  The 7 year old, when she tastes pasty bread in her mouth, remembers tuna fish sandwiches and a picnic the day before with her parents and grandparents at the state park.  She can feel the warm sunshine.  She can feel the security of being with her family.  The 8 year old chews the bread while balancing the grape juice almost under her nose, poised ready to wash down the pasty bread.  For an instant she inhales through her nose and the sweet smell of grape juice captures her mind.  She thinks of the last day of school and the class picnic and play day.  They played kickball and she had gotten on base --- kicked the ball out of the infield for her first time ever.  When the next girl kicked a home run and they both scored, they jumped and cheered together.  So did the whole team.  When it was over both teams drank grape juice provided by the school cafeteria.  The juice was warm like the communion juice, and the warmth seemed to add to the sweetness.

 

Next, there is a balding man with a big tin button on his collar that says something about turning 40.  He has a salt and pepper mustache which curls not quite into a handlebar at the ends.  He wears a "MIA" bracelet on his wrist for those "Missing in Action in Southeast Asia."  He hasn't been much of a churchgoer since he left Sunday School in his teens and after he returned from Vietnam.  It was too painful.  Then he had visited the Wall in Washington and found himself able to attend again at age 37.  Now, for the umpteenth time he begins to cry at communion when he hears the words "My body given for you" and "My blood shed for you."  They aren't just tears of grief and sorrow and loss which he cries.  They are also cleansing tears, tears of gradual healing.  Beside him is a younger man, his brother, several years younger.  He is starting to bald like his brother.  He too weeps, but the two brothers are different.  To the younger, "This is my blood" brings back images of the Kent State slayings on the evening news, civil rights' marches, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and people fighting apartheid in South Africa.  Nevertheless, he reaches for his brother's hand.  Here at communion these same and different brothers bow their heads and share their grief.

 

An older lady is there who knows nothing of the brothers' thoughts.  Her gray hair is tied in a bun at the back of her head, and her face is gullied with deep wrinkles.  Her arthritis makes moving difficult, and when the minister says, "My body broken for you" she thinks first of her knees.  For some reason her mind takes her back to VJ and VE days when she toasted with her friends that the war was over, that husbands and lovers would be returning --- most of them at least.  Even sharing with those whose spouses and lovers weren't coming home, there still was a feeling of God's presence.

 

There is a young mother slowly rocking back and forth cradling her infant.  He's quiet now but last week he squirmed, squealed and wet on the minister's perspiring, stubby fingers during baptism.  She cradles her son the way Mary might have cradled hers.  As she takes the bread and juice from the minister all she hears are words "My body...for you."  She recalls the pain of childbirth, the excruciating pain, and yet the exquisite feeling afterwards that it was all worthwhile.  "Unto us a child is born.  My body...for you."  She smiles a wide loving smile.

 

There is a young man in his 20's with mongoloid features.  He wears a crew-cut and has a broad grin which sweeps across his face.  His head is in constant motion as he tries, like a curious child, to see what everyone else is doing.  His smile widens even further when the minister calls him by name, "Charlie," and hands him the bread and juice.  The words don't mean much to him.  The bread is bread and the juice is juice, but he obviously enjoys being a part of something bigger than himself.  After he eats and drinks he looks at those on either side of him and shares a grin with them.

 

In some ways, Charlie isn't much different from the widow beside him.  She's thin and gray with a warm smile.  Her husband died the day after his retirement, five years earlier, and the wound, though healing, is at times still fresh.  Charlie isn't far from her, for she too has felt wrapped in the arms, the loving arms, of this body of Christ, this corpus of believers gathered at Jesus' table in his name.  The fellowship, the being needed, the compassion and empowering love were just what she needed when she needed it the most.

 

I could go on because there are as many communion experiences as there are people.  And each person has many Communion experiences.

 

Who knows what will be triggered here today by the smell of the bread and juice or the weight or taste in the mouth; the words I say or the words of a hymn; maybe the smell of the candles or their flame; our stained glass windows or the words of scripture; maybe it’s the organ's sound or the touch of the person next to you.  Who can say?

 

Who knows how we will meet God today in this sacrament which is planned but allows for the unplanned?  This meeting of the human spirit with the Holy Spirit of God!  This experience may bring pain and pleasure; healing and forgiveness; release from guilt and the strength to risk.  It may bring a simple family-table feeling with a sense of being loved and cared for and part of something bigger.  It may be a time to cast out fear and doubt, to be comforted as we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death by the one who "walks with."  We may find ourselves standing over an empty grave or in a front of a manger - or understanding that somehow they're both the same or at least connected, and that neither is to be feared.

 

If, we come to commune, if we come seeking God -- for whatever reason -- like the father greeting the prodigal son or the mother who won't abandon her nursing child, God will seek us; God will rush to meet us with open arms of love.

 

What then is Communion?  What happens here?  It's whatever it is that happens when we get together and, in Christ name, share the bread and cup, and say, "This is my body which is for you.  Take, eat.  This is my blood, shed for you.  Drink of it, all of you."  Jesus knew that it would be just like that when he gathered with his disciples for that last time many years ago.  That's why he gave Communion to us.  What a wonderful gift!

 

Please join me at the Sovereign's table!

 

1Thoughts shared from Burt, Steven E.  Fingerprints on the Chalice.  Lima, Ohio: C. S.    S. Publishing Company, Inc., 1990.