As a teenager, Author Annie Dillard questioned the values and faith of her parents. Like most young people Annie wasn’t eager to spend Sunday mornings in church. Often, she was sitting in the front row of the balcony with her friends poking fun of the women in their fancy dresses and the men in their stiff shirts and ties. “Such hypocrites!” she thought.
This Sunday was Holy Communion something Annie tried to avoid whenever possible. Reading a ritual out of hymn book had no meaning for her. She groaned as trays were passed out with little cubes of bread and vials of grape juice. But as she looked around a strange feeling came over her. She saw everyone praying, even her friends. Why were they taking this so seriously? Every head was bowed, no one was moving. “I didn’t know what to make of it,” she wrote later. “For the first time, I did not see these people as pious hypocrites. They were ordinary people doing the best they could, coming to receive forgiveness for their shortcomings.”
Annie Dillard understood that the true meaning of Holy Communion and the church became more than an empty ritual, read out of a book. We come to the Lord’s table in need of something we cannot do for ourselves. God is actually present in us, the people of God’s church.
Today, I write this on voting day of mid-term elections. Regardless of political leanings, this is considered an important time for our nation. Tonight, there will be minute by minute updates until the ballots are counted and the results are duly reported. No expense has been spared on either advertising for the candidates or reporting the election results. Afterward, there will be endless debate on what the results mean but my prediction is this:
As a result of the elections today: Rather than finding unity, we will likely deepen our divisions and become more polarized and frustrated than ever. Ughhh!
This should be an opportunity for the church to become a strong voice, not so much in choosing sides as in providing a place where people can freely come together in a safe and holy environment. The church should and could be that place… but we live in a time when the sacred and holy no longer seem important. For many, attending church has lost its meaning.
Yet, at the same time, our country has become increasingly polarized and filled with divisive rhetoric.
Maybe it’s time to look again at what we are taught as Christians. Paul wrote: “First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it.” – 1 Cor. 11:18
Divisiveness is not new. Paul recognizes the reality that we have a variety of strongly held opinions. But when we come to church something else is more important.
“For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, he took the cup of wine, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” – 1 Cor. 11:23-25
The first Christians considered the Lord’s supper a vital part of their faith. The world was unkind. So, communion was a source of strength and comfort. Families came together to share a meal amid their pettiness and disagreements. In the same way, we too come together as a church to share in a Holy Meal. Like a family we share each other’s burdens and joys. We have different opinions, but we put those differences aside. We receive the bread and cup symbolizing the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
The world can still be unkind, divisive and even violent at times. But the church can still make a difference. Just like the First Christians, Holy Communion is still a vital part of our faith offering a source of strength and comfort. We come together to share a meal in the midst of differences.
We cannot be Christians by ourselves. We need each other. Church and holy communion bring us together. Annie Dillard was forever changed seeing people come together in humility before our risen Lord, sharing a Holy Meal. We can be forever changed as well.