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.
Frankly, I have been surprised and pleased by the good humor of people this week. I have been to the grocery store several times, the bank, the coffee shop, run errands, and all of it’s been peaceful, fun, even collegial. People are chatting while waiting in lines. Waiting patiently, even while you bag up your 17 items in the 15 or less aisle. Everybody is in such a good mood. I think it must be Thanksgiving.
And why am I so surprised? I hate to admit it, but I think it’s because, on the inside, I am fast-forwarding to the days before Christmas. No, not thinking about Christmas lists, just making the parallel: the shopping, the crowds, the cool weather, the traffic, the lines. In the midst, I am leaping ahead. When I come back to the present, I am surprised.
There everyone is, wishing a Happy Thanksgiving. Everyone. You can wish it to a whole line at Starbucks and they’ll all smile and wish it back. You can smile and wish it at a total stranger walking around the block and he’ll wish it back. You can wish it to the people of every race and color who are tellers at the bank and they’ll wish it back.
Happy Thanksgiving is safe to say…to everyone. Because it’s non-denominational. You don’t have to worry if you’re offending. Everyone can give thanks, in one way or another, for something or other. And wishing happiness, well, it’s a given, when are grateful.
I just wish, somehow, we could make the Christmas season as peaceful. I suspect thanksgiving is a good place to start.