This May, my daughter, Eleanor, will receive her first communion. When I join my wife and daughter for Catholic Mass, Eleanor joins Katie to walk forward for communion in order to be blessed by the priest. I do not join them for communion because I am not a Catholic, I am an Episcopalian. As a result, I often have a minute to reflect on the significance of communion generally. Today’s service offered me such a moment.
When I was very young, we were members of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church way out River Road in Richmond, Virginia. Though it has become a large church in the many intervening years, at the time it was still recognizable as an old mission church—a small 1870s white church-house with deep stained wooden pews. My memories of St. Mary’s are hazy—we left to join St. James’s when I was six—though several impressions are carved deep within me. Those memories include my grandfather’s booming and endearingly off-key hymn-singing voice and bright Spring time morning light, framed by the windows, illuminating sparks of dust.
One Sunday I walked up to the front with my parents for communion. As a small child, I should have stood when I reached the railing, but I kneeled and found myself looking through the balustrade at the gray pants legs of the gray-haired minister, Holt Sauder. I was embarrassed and confused to hear the congregation laughing—they found this entertaining. I did not. Reverend Souder did not laugh, but instead he kneeled and gave me the bread and the wine under the rail. Grace.
I came forward, awkward and uncertain, and he met me where I was. To me this was the essence of communion. Perhaps the gifts referenced as “The gifts of God for the people of God” are not just the bread and the wine but they are also the invitation to come to the table and the grace to welcome us to it.
Happy day after Easter!