This Thursday we attended a lovely Maundy Thursday service at our church. As a part of the remembrance of the last supper, we participated in communion together. This time, however, instead of passing the elements around to the seated congregation as they usually do, we were invited to come forward and partake of the Lord's supper while standing in small groups at the front of the sanctuary.
Jeff and I were used to this form of communion because our church in Illinois had practiced it regularly, and we had grown to love the personal, symbolic encounter of sitting together at table with 11 other members of the church family and being personally served the elements by an elder who actually knows your name. I find it so powerful to have someone look me in the face as I take the bread and say "Becky, this is the body of Christ, broken for you." After such a penetrating yet communal experience with the elements, something is lost for me when I receive communion from an usher wearing a nametag that reads "Hello, my name is Bob" who mutely passes the plate of mini cups and tiny wonder bread squares while I fumble around trying to acheive a smooth "handoff" to the next person.
In this more active way of communion (sometimes called "Scots' form"), one must actually get up from one's seat and proceed to the front of the room signifying the active part we must take in following Christ. This involves a bit of coordination on the part of the ushers, and the congregation definitely has to find its rhythm. On Thursday night, the first few rows of our congregation timidly stood up and peered around, unsure of which station to go and waiting for the usher's reassuring hand on their back to point them in the right direction. They reminded me of sheep.
But by the time the coming and going of groups reached the back of the room where we were seated, everyone was in full swing. We knew exactly where we should go and to whom to we should look to receive direction. And in the mean time we had the opportunity to observe our brothers and sisters in Christ walking forward and standing together in a circle, looking each other in the face, and sharing a moment of grace.
When our turn came up, we circled around the table and I looked at each person. There was the elder who was serving, dressed in a suit and tie with a confident, booming voice. Next to him were the low-talkers. We have tried to get to know this timid, soft-spoken couple several times, but had been frustrated by the nearly inaudible and awkwardly terse interactions. She smiled shyly across the table at me. I smiled back. To my left was an older couple. He was short with a short-sleeved hawaian shirt and full beard, she portly with a sweatshirt featuring a flowery silk screen design and a pair of oversized red tinted glasses. Next to them was the young, fresh faced couple, the mother holding their dewey newborn with one arm while she passed the plate around with the other. I looked around at this odd assemblage of people and had the strong sense that I was looking at the body of Christ.
After we shared a few moments together, we broke up and went back to our respective pew spots. And I suddenly remembered a poem Mark Noll wrote a few years back for the church we attended in Illinois that described so much better than I could what the experience of this type of communion is really like. So instead of continuing to babble on about it, I'll just share the poem here and let it speak for itself:
Scots' form in the suburbs
by Mark A. Noll
The sedentary Presbyterians
awoke, arose, and filed to tables spread
with white, to humble bits that showed how God
almighty had decided to embrace
humanity, and why these clean, well-fed,
well-dressed suburbanites might need his grace.
The pious cruel, the petty gossipers
and callous climbers on the make, the wives
with icy tongues and husbands with their hearts
of stone, the ones who battle drink and do
not always win, the power lawyers mute
before this awful bar of mercy, boys
uncertain of themselves and girls not sure
of where they fit, the poor and rich hemmed in
alike by cash, physicians waiting to
be healed, two women side by side—the one
with unrequited longing for a child,
the other terrified by signs within
of life, the saintly weary weary in
pursuit of good, the academics (soft
and cossetted) who posture over words,
the travelers coming home from chasing wealth
or power or wantonness, the mothers
choked by dual duties, parents nearly crushed
by children died or children lost, and some
with cancer-ridden bodies, some with spikes
of pain in chest or back or knee or mind
or heart. They come, O Christ, they come
They came, they sat, they listened to the words,
"for you my body broken." Then they ate
and turned away—the spent unspent, the dead
recalled, a hint of color on the psychic
cheek—from tables groaning under weight
of tiny cups and little crumbs of bread.