I grew up going to church occasionally with friends. Southeast Michigan does not have the strong presence of United Methodist Churches like southwest Ohio. It was not until my college years that I ever noticed a United Methodist Church and experienced worship. Southeast Michigan is, however home to the mission headquarters for the Lutheran Church and many, many, Roman Catholic parishes. Some of my earliest memories of church were sitting in pews with dear family friends. We were dressed nice, behaving well, yet I didn’t have a clue what was going on around me. On the outside it all looked put together, on the inside I had more questions than faith.
I remember wondering, “When am I supposed to stand? Why do we keep standing and sitting down? What is the appropriate response? Which direction was I suppose to make the sign of the cross and how exactly do I make that kneeler come down without making a crashing sound on the floor?” Those were the things that occupied my mind…what was happening on the outside. On more than one occasion, I remember being told to stay seated during Holy Communion as my friends went up to receive the elements. I was too young to understand why I couldn’t participate, all I knew was I sitting down, staying put, while the row I was in cleared out past me. My earliest memories, in a very real sense, were more concerned with the outer appearance than what was on the inside.
My earliest memories of worship are forever a part of my story. One of the verses that I hold onto is from Romans, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” because it reminds me of the transformation that happened in my own journey around the sacrament of Holy Communion. Ironically(?!), that transformation began in a Roman Catholic Parish when my brother and sister-in-law were married. On the night of the rehearsal dinner, Father Jim looked at the wedding party…there were 28 of us…or some large number like that.
Just the wedding party and their immediate family/spouses filled well over half of the sanctuary. He looked at all of us and said, I am pretty sure all of you are not Roman Catholic. Tomorrow night, we will celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion. I will consecrate the elements. Stephen and Pauline will serve them. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are welcome to celebrate with them.
I remember turning to one of the other bridesmaids that I knew was Roman Catholic, checking what I thought I just heard. “Was I really able to participate?” I was. I was really going to get to participate in the sacrament? I couldn’t believe it. My faith was very young. One thing was certain: I wasn’t drinking from the same cup of wine as everyone else. I was 18 and thought that was gross…even if the wedding party went first. If my memory serves me correctly, my sister-in-law said to all of us just dip the wafer in the cup or let the cup pass you. I had dunked Oreos in a cup of milk with my brother and sister as a kid, so that was good enough for me. I don’t remember drinking from the cup. I do very much remember the bold taste of red wine that left a bitter taste in my mouth until the reception. I also remember how awful that wafer tasted and how it seemed to stick to everything in my mouth. I know I didn’t understand all that was happening in that moment. It was, however, a moment of grace. And suddenly, it was what was inside that mattered.
Seventeen years later, each time I stand at the Table, I remember the part of me that God’s grace continues to transform from the inside, out. Each time I stand at the Table, I pray it will be a moment of grace for you. Today, I pray you’ll experience the awe and wonder and mystery of the sacrament. More importantly, I pray you’ll experience the grace from the One who made the outside and cares even more about the inside.