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Bread and Cup

This past Sunday was World Communion Sunday. After serving those who came forward to receive the bread and cup, Paula Hoos and I made our way to the back of the sanctuary to serve one of our friends not able to come forward to the rail. I took the piece of bread, dipped it into the cup Paula held, and placed it up to our friend’s lips for her to eat . . . which got me thinking . . .

During my last year in seminary, I took a course in Christian education taught by a professor named John Hendrix. His approach to teaching was to help his students experience as much of the content as possible. He insisted that learning is more than the assimilation of information; learning is transformation. In other words, when you learn, you come out different in some way. So on the final day of class, John—by then, my teacher and my friend—served us communion. The bread he held in one hand he had made himself the night before. The cup he held in the other hand trembled as he made his way around to each one of us. When he stopped at my desk, he set down the cup, pinched off a piece of the loaf, and placed it in my mouth. As he did that, he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said something. I cannot say what words he spoke. The lump in my throat made it too difficult for me to swallow. And I could hardly see him through the tears welling up in my eyes. But I believe he blessed me. To this day, I have never experienced a more moving moment during communion. And I have never been the same since.

Some years later, I was leading a weekend Christian education conference at a large church in Connecticut. Much of my content was developed out of what I’d learned from John Hendrix. On Sunday, I was invited to sit with the presiding ministers to be introduced. When I arrived at the sanctuary, an usher held out to me a bucket. I reached in and took out what looked to me to be a little plastic coffee creamer container, like the ones at restaurants. Actually it contained the morning’s communion elements. Peel back the lid and—voila!— there was the wafer; peel back the next lid and—voila!—there was the juice. I was, well, speechless. Not knowing what next to do, I put the little cup in my pants pocket. At the appropriate time in the service, the congregation was invited by the pastor to share in the body and blood of Christ. So I reached into my pocket, took the little cup (now slightly warm), peeled and ate. To this day I have never experienced a more unholy moment during communion.

Yesterday, I went to see a friend who can no longer come to our church, to share communion with her. I was in my jeans. She was in her dressing gown. We sat together around a small table. I took out a piece of one of the loaves we all had received the day before. I poured into a cup some of the juice that we all had dipped our bread into the day before. I read aloud from the liturgy printed in one of the bulletins we all had used the day before. And she and I shared in the body and blood of Christ. With you. Afterward, we held hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer. With you. As I left her room, I wondered when last I had experienced a more moving moment during communion.

Wait—did I already say that?