Yes, blest. That’s the way they spelt it in the hymnal I had extracted from its place in the next-to-last pew, at the Church of the Palms, Presbyterian. I am hidden in the back, scrunched behind a pillar in a nearly empty pew the older folks have difficulty accessing. There are a lot of older folks here in Sarasota, Florida, where I am a “winter resident,” and many of them come to this service: 11:00, Sunday, Traditional. They have several services, both contemporary and traditional, and offer worship both livestream and in person.
Yes, I tried out several Methodist churches here, too, plus churches of several other denominations. I didn’t realize how important it would be for me to find a church home here, and I didn’t think I was that picky. I just figured God would find me most anywhere I went, so what did it matter?
Here’s the thing about being a visitor at a church: when you don’t know what to do, it’s very uncomfortable. There’s the kneeling and standing, the sitting and rising, and the signing and passing. And … they say Holy Ghost instead of Holy Spirit and rather than forgiving trespasses, they forgive their confounded debtors. Try to vanish in the back pew when you’re blurting it out all WRONG.
Well, today is Communion Sunday, and boy have I found that are there a lot of ways to celebrate communion. Never a fan of embarrassing myself, last Sunday I asked a friendly usher about the procedure at this church. He patiently answered my many questions about Presbyterians including how they “do” communion. Apparently, they pass the trays along the pews. Good to know. Now I am ready.
So, this Sunday after listening to Pastor McConnell deliver an excellent sermon, I eagerly anticipate what comes next. He transitions to the communion liturgy, a familiar story which is told a familiar way, and the church “elders” line up to take the plates of bread cubes which they will pass along the aisles. (All the bread is gluten free. It’s not supposed to taste good y’all! It’s supposed to be good for everyone.) The cube tray finally comes to me and I select a large one 🙂 (Yep, I did). They’re all crust free, so at least I didn’t have to pick through them for that.
I take my cube and hold it, waiting for the juice tray to come my way, but it doesn’t. And it doesn’t. And I look to the couple at end of row and it hasn’t come to them either. Have they forgotten our row?! I’ll bet it happens, just like sometimes they miss with the offering plate as it gets shuffled among rows – human ushers begin human after all. But forgotten for communion?!
Now I have a problem: what do I do with the cube of bread in my hand?
You guessed it. I did slip it secretly into my palm, so no one would notice, and then considered whether I could sneak up to the altar at the conclusion of the service and find a cup to dip it in. Maybe I could even kneel at the chancel for a moment? My palm is getting a bit sweaty as I watch the elders return their trays to the altar. For a moment I hold out hope they might ask if anyone has been missed. They don’t, and then return to their seats.
Pastor McConnell continues the liturgy. After he prays, the church falls very silent. I am on the verge of tears. Oh my God, I have been forgotten! What good is bread with no juice? What is flesh without blood? What becomes of the one who is excluded, forsaken, forgotten – an outcast in the back of the church?
And then, just as I have confirmed my worst fears, Pastor McConnell says, “After supper was over, Jesus took the cup….”
Instantly, the circulation returns to my sweaty palms where I still hold that little bread cube. The elders rise again to receive new trays replete with tiny juice cups. They spread out among us to distribute the blood of Christ. Slowly, it makes its way to the back of the church, to the next-to-last-pew, to me, the visiting Methodist. Thank God, I’m not forgotten after all!
As the tray comes my way, I tuck away my cube in order to pass the tray with two hands without spilling. That elder has a firm grip, though. He’s not letting me take it; he patiently indicates one of the plastic juice-filled cups meant to be mine. Perhaps he saw my selection of the largest bread cube?
Ah, now I’m complete. Bread and wine. Cube and Cup. Body and blood. Delivered to me. Honestly, after all my mental shenanigans, it felt less like Holy Communion and more like Holy Conviction, but I completed the effort, participating in the sacrament the Presbyterian way. I’ll admit, I prefer to receive Communion with both hands out and someone else deciding my portion. We all prefer what we’re used to, but the way of the Presbyterians here in Florida may actually be a bit more in keeping with the scripture. After all, Jesus didn’t slosh his bread in his cup. He ate. And then after supper, he drank.
Funny, isn’t it, that when we let our minds run away with us and presume our own practices to be the one right way, how prone we are to miss what we’re meant to receive.
Relieved, I stood to depart the service on this Sunday and was surprised to be greeted by a couple I knew from our Sarasota neighborhood; they had been sitting at the end of my pew. They are “seasonal folk” like me. A “mixed faith” couple, like myself and my husband. They attend a Methodist church back home … like me.
Together, the three of us greeted Pastor McConnell in thanks. There we stood, Jew, Gentile, Methodist and Presbyterian, conversing about the surprising similarities that had drawn us together around One Table.
“Blessed be the tie that binds,” Pastor McConnell said.
I have my solo cup of java and toss the evidence. Next customer.
But what of the
sound of grinding?
smell of brewing?
delightful waiting that stirs the taste buds as I watch the beverage climb its way up my pot?
What of the pouring in cup after cup as I share it with friends and family and we sit around a table for a friendly conversation or a good laugh?
Oh, but this allows everyone to have just what they want! Their own private blend! Suited to their taste buds, their preference, their caffeination, their strength.
Keurig, how you have met our needs to have just what we want at the expense of what we really need: a willingness and desire to satisfy everyone around the table, including but not only ourselves.
You seemed so nice when we first met.
Now I see you for who you really are.
Wendy LeBolt, coffee-lover
Something special happens when we insist on one table with everyone around it. Oh, we may not like everyone there. We may not have seen them in years. We may not even recognize them. But, when the first rule of gathering is that everyone gets a seat at the table, the dynamic changes.
It seems that rule #1 has gone missing. We feel just fine with one head table and a banquet hall filled with rounders of 10. Or, let’s just scrap the head table sit with our friends around a 6-seater or a 4-top. Why not a deuce? Hey, we’re completely happy with our laptop and our tall latte at the table for one as long as there’s an outlet. As long as I can plug into “my community” and access all the wisdom the world has to offer, I’m good.
This is the direction we’re headed and we’re good with it. Our private truth feels fine. And that’s fine until we are confronted with different: different looks, different ways, different beliefs. Nothing wrong with different, we say, take that seat over there. Way over there.
Separate but equal, that seems fair. Just like it did when segregation seemed fair. And, in practice, people thought it made sense, until it didn’t.
What’s wrong with each one having a seat and a table to himself is that it doesn’t cause us to squirm. It doesn’t require us to listen to the difference, consider the different, and frame our response in respect to the one who differs. We dearly need rule #1: there is one table.
As soon as separation is an option, it’s an out. A reason to pack up our differences and find people who agree with us. In our own clusters we can justify our actions and find support for our opinions. We may work up a sweat and convince ourselves this is the work we are meant to do, this holding the line against those who would invade from that other table across the room.
But it’s hard to hear across the distance. And in the rabble of a million voices, each speaking his truth, where can we find a common language?
There’s only one way I know: One Table, everyone around it, no exceptions.
Yep, it will be nearly impossible to find union there, and the struggle to find a unified voice will nearly kill us. But it’s the presence of the opposition, not its absence, that force us to find it — faith, word, answer, method — a way forward that includes EVERYONE around the table.
One Table with as many chairs as there are people who seek a seat. One microphone and one scribe. When we love, we listen.
It would nearly kill us all. But out of that near death experience what life!