On Sunday morning we went to church and sat near the back. The sermon was about Ruth, the singing was mostly hymns, and the pastoral prayer was given by the elder who also goes to our weekly Bible study. The pew bench was particularly hard this week, and there were more than a few empty spots in front of us. We weren't even all that far back either. It occurred to me that attendance was significantly lower this day. Probably some people away, or maybe it was Christian sleep-in day and nobody told me.
I noticed only part way through the service that the "elements" were out at the front of the church. The stale bread and the tart grape juice were all ready to be passed around at the end of the hour. Usually I'm pretty into this part of the service, but today it seemed so stiflingly normal.
Indeed, once we got to it, it went along like most of the rest. The eight elders gathered at the front, only one of them conspicuously wearing no suit jacket, and they took turns praying for "the bread and the cup." I started to wonder why we felt these little cubes of Safeway bread needed our petitions and these tiny glasses needed our prayers. I was also thinking about how we in evangelical circles like to call it "the cup" most likely because it sounds better than "the sacred grape juice" or the "wonderful Welch's." It all gave me a bit of a chuckle ... which of course I had to suppress.
As with most of our services around the Lord's Table, this one was pretty quick and painless and full of Christianese. Being so used to it, I never doubted our sincerity during this time though, in fact I quite appreciated that we were pausing to remember our debt to the Lord -- a debt that grows that much greater with each feeble attempt of ours to give him worship.
Once the bread started its rounds, I enjoyed watching all the people in front of me shuffle down the pew to make up for all the blank spaces, pass the plate, and then return to their places. They were sitting so far from one another! Of couse when it came my turn, I did the same.
When the cups came by, I noticed they'd been jostled a bit, and while I tried to avoid taking a spilled one, I realized my failure to steer clear of the sticky little mess as I passed the tray over to my wife.
I saw a dot of grape juice on my finger, and to be honest, it kind of startled me.
When it caught my eye it looked like a prick of blood. Blood is hard to ignore. And with the elements passed now I looked and saw an even larger smear of it on my wife's hand, right in the middle of the palm. Right where the nails might have been. She tried to flick off the grape juice but it only streaked down one of her fingers and threatened one or two drips onto the floor. To avoid this, she closed her hand and clenched it repeatedly until all of it was rubbed into her palm. Moments later we "partook" together.
I have to say that despite my best efforts to notice everything but the sacred truth behind our tradition that morning, it had now become inescapably clear. Tucked away into our pathetic little ceremony was the amazing fact that the bread was as freely passed to us as was Christ's body, and this grape juice made a mess which paled in comparison to that of His blood.
And these were just lame little attempts to encapsulate God's passion, as I am but a lame little attempt to encapsulate His Son. An attempt wrought with failure but met by the forgiveness His sacrifice won.