Rector's Blog: I miss taking Communion
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"I miss taking Communion."
"Really? What do you miss about it?"
I was not prepared to be challenged by a priest when I said I missed communion. But that was what was happening. I wanted him to say, “Yeah, me too.” Or “Well, let’s start taking communion right away.” He didn’t say these things. He just asked me what about it I missed.
This conversation didn’t happen during this pandemic. No, it took place 14 years ago, when taking communion was something I had come to take completely for granted as essential to my faith. I was part of a church plant at the time, and we were specifically trying to build a church for people who didn’t like church, people who wouldn’t want to do anything churchy, people who would never darken the door of a traditional church building, much less want to see robes, smell incense, sing hymns, or partake in rituals for which they had had no context.
We held our services in a jazz club in Los Angeles, pictures of Mingus and Monk on the walls, chairs and a stage instead of pews and an altar. We sang a mixture of old Gospel tunes, new compositions, and popular music you’d never hear in a traditional sanctuary. We wore street clothes. And we only partook of the Eucharist a few times a year. I could handle all the other stuff. I thought it was kind of cool, and I got what we were trying to do, what we were seeking to create. But I missed taking Communion. And I made my feelings known – often. But to no avail. Our priest, my mentor, was resolute: “We have Communion every week,” he’d say, “we just don’t usually ritualize it."
The reason I hated this answer is because it made sense. I would have preferred his reasoning be flimsier so I could fight it. I’m not saying I ended up agreeing with my priest, (he always knew I didn’t) but I came to understand his logic, and he pushed me to think about what Communion meant to me in a way I never had before – which is a pretty priestly move on his part, might I say.
His reasoning was simple: Many of us who have found the ritual of the Eucharistic feast to be central to our worship of God can’t fathom how to be church without that weekly ritual. But does that actually mean we can’t worship God without it? Do we have a way to understand what it means to worship God without taking Communion? Can we fathom a worshiping community where we are in communion with one another and with God even when we are not participating in the ritual?
Some people thought this meant the leadership of our church plant didn’t value the Eucharist. I found the opposite to be true – to a person we loved and cherished it. Some thought this meant we weren’t really Episcopalian: Never mind the fact that before 1979 weekly Eucharist was not remotely a given in Episcopal Churches across the country.
As we built this unchurchy church, we were living into a central question: How do we make Communion something we live and not just something we take?
Our church has been on the longest extended Eucharistic fast of our lifetime. It’s been over five months since we’ve taken Communion together. I miss it. I miss the crumble of the bread, and the bittersweetness of the wine. I miss all the words and songs that surround the moment. I miss making eye contact with each of you as you show me your empty hands and we share this meal, and you say “Amen”, if you say anything at all. I miss all this. It is profoundly painful. And at the same time, because of that funky little church in Los Angeles that pushed me outside of my comfort zone, I’ve never had trouble thinking of Redeemer as church these last few months. I’ve never wondered if what we were doing was really worship. And, to be honest, I have not seen us as out of Communion with one another, or with God.
During this difficult time, how do we make Communion something we live and not just something we take? Our Prayer Book tells us that Communion imparts to us the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life. This guides us in how we answer the question of living Communion: How can you seek forgiveness? How can you strengthen your union with Christ? How can you strengthen your union with your neighbor? And what parts of your life nourish you in such a way that you can sense God’s presence more fully?
Answering these questions is not a substitute or replacement for the Holy Eucharist. Episcopalians believe that the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ are powerfully and magnificently present in the sacred feast. There is no replacement for that - no substitute for such beauty. But if we can only find Communion in the bread and the cup, we do not understand what Jesus is doing for and to and with us in the Eucharist. The Communion we experience in our sacrament is meant to empower us to experience Communion in every aspect of our life together.
We have not been able to take Communion, and we will not be able to take Communion for a bit longer. If you’re reading this, I know you miss it. I know it. As your priest, I am compelled to ask you, what do you miss about it? This is not a rhetorical question. Please think on it. Meditate and pray and wrestle and argue and write and wonder on what you miss about taking Communion. Hold that. Grieve that.
Then join me in living the Communion we cannot take.
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