Sunday John and I preached together. And then I served communion. We were supposed to serve it together, but he was sick, and in addition to squirting Purell on his (and my) hands every other minute, I told him it would not be an example of God’s grace for him to infect a thousand people by doling out germy communion bread.
Serving communion is a remarkable, visual experience, made more powerful because we know the stories of so many of the people in our faith community who approach us, starving for grace, thirsty for assurance of forgiveness.
Sunday was no different. All generations, every manner of humanity, walked forward to the front of the sanctuary to take bread and dip it in the cup.
I looked deep into the eyes of husbands and wives we know are struggling to love each other,
and my friend who’s gay,
and the weary young mom balancing a baby on her shoulder,
and the single, tattooed, pink-haired twenty-something,
and the girl who’s sister committed suicide last week…
But the one who moved me most was a young guy who clearly felt out of place. The one who came forward but ate the bread without dipping and then tried to take the cup, but then, confused and embarrassed, shrugged and hung his head, scuffling away, clearly feeling like he got it wrong.
I wanted to run after him and yell, “It’s ok! It’s all ok! There’s no ‘right’ way to receive God’s grace other than just to know you need it!”
I’ve continued to think about this young guy. Was it his first time in church? What drew him? What was going through his mind? Did he sense God’s love for him?
I think of all the awkward encounters with Jesus in the Bible. The woman caught in adultery who Jesus protected, and the one at the well who had a hard time understanding that Jesus would even talk to her, much less love her as He did. I love it that Jesus embraces awkward cuz I am so there!
In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes about an experience at L’Arche, a community for people with handicaps where he lived for ten years. A woman named Janet asked Henri for a blessing. She walked towards Nouwen and he writes,
“I was wearing a long white robe with ample sleeves covering my hands as well as my arms. Spontaneously, Janet put her arms around me and put her head against my chest. Without thinking, I covered her with my sleeves so she almost vanished in the folds of my robe. ‘Janet, I want you to know you are God’s beloved daughter.'”
This, I think, is a picture of what God desires when we come to Him for communion – awkward and handicapped, broken and unsure. He covers us with His righteousness, enfolding us in His hug of grace and says, “You are my beloved.”
After the worship service I ran up the aisle to find the awkward young man. I couldn’t find him, but God can, and I pray he is hearing “You are my beloved.”