Six Hour Sacrament

On Sunday morning, I spent six straight hours focused on the Lord’s Supper, though not because I am some kind of spiritual giant who can meditate on the sacrament for an entire morning.

At 6:00am, my alarm clock launched into my daily morning dose of National Public Radio. The person who schedules their programing is most definitely an absolute genius: Sunday from 6:00 to 7:oo in the morning is devoted to the program Speaking of Faith. An excellent choice, because we church-types are among the few who are awake at that insane weekend hour!

This morning’s program was on Communion/Lords Supper/Eucharist. It was wonderful, and I am already trying to figure out how to use it to start discussion among a future Worship Committee. Don Saliers of Candler School of Theology was interviewed and made beautiful points about how communion ought to flow out of worship into service to the world, just as Christ opened himself to us. I was also entranced by his way of thinking about the huge differences in how Christians today “do” communion. He compared it to a beautiful, haunting melody: when you hear it sung by one voice acappella; when you hear it orchestrated for full strings; when you hear it arranged for piano and oboe; in each case, you hear and enjoy the same melody, and from each different persective are reminded how beautiful that melody is.

With that fabulous conversation to ponder on the ride to church, where we were celebrating communion at each of the three services. And this morning, I was paying close attention to the practical logistics of communion in this church. With three services and 1,500 or so congregants, it is a major operation. A group arrives to set-up early Saturday morning; the number of elder-servers is staggering and that organization of these folks takes three coordinators. It takes a woman from church more than a full day’s worth of time to bake wafers for one Sunday.

I stood in the narthex to watch the procedure. A constant buzz, coming and going, several seperate groups of volunteers trying not to trip over each other–servers; ushers; tray clearers–each group directed by their own volunteer coordinator. And everything done “decently and in order.” (Usually, Presbyterians use that phrase from their Book of Order to describe church polity, but here, at least, it also applies to communion.)

At first, I missed the spontenaity and hominess of communion at smaller churches I’ve been a part of. But then I settled into a corner and watched, and saw amazing things. Like Don Saliers had suggested, it was a very different arrangement of the familiar eucharistic tune, but still just as hauting and beautiful, with layers I’d never heard before: The high school kid who is completely devoted to being a youth deacon intensely focused on his task clearing finished trays (full disclosure–he is also my cousin, and I was terribly proud of him in that moment); The server coordinators standing in the back with their arms high in the air as a signal when all pews had been served, although it looked for all the world like their hands were blessing the congregation in an uncharacteristically charismatic fashion; The usher who helped to entertain a fussy baby in the narthex; The fact that everyone involved, from the Saturday set-up group to the servers to the people who would wash over 1,000 little cups when it was over, was truly and completely devoted to serving these people gathered, and saw their job not just as decorum but as service.

And finally, around 12:30, I was on my way home. So, there it is–6 hours of unintentional meditation on communion.

I don’t know what the 1,500 people who took communion have been doing the last few days, but I hope that their being served the body of Christ by that great bustling bunch of Christ’s body in the narthex has somehow extended into the world in the last two days.