Twenty years ago today, I had an epiphany during Communion. Here is how I describe it in my book Table Talk:
February 7, 1999. Some dates you never forget. I preached from Revelation 3:20, that verse about Jesus knocking on the door of the church, wanting to come in and sup with us, a Eucharistic reference if ever there was one. I hadn’t always read it that way. Many of the Baptists I knew preferred to interpret the passage as Jesus wanting to be invited into our hearts, so that we might be saved. As far as I recall, no one ever wondered why it was a church’s door he was knocking on, or that maybe instead of our hearts, the food reference there was literal.
My sermon was called “Table for Two,” and while I emphasized the personal nature of communing with God, I didn’t do justice to the corporate nature of worship at all. (The New Testament is almost always more interested in the plural form of you; the singular not so much. “Y’all” is the Texas form of Greek.) I would probably give my sermon that day a B, maybe B+ if grading on the curve. But what the Spirit of God did with that sermon, and with that meal, deserved an A+. It was almost beyond words.
But only “almost,” because I have tried for years to describe what unfolded, except the problem with epiphanies is that words rarely do them justice. “You had to be there” describes most visions. But here goes: Since worshipers were to come forward and receive by intinction, and since we had four servers at two stations up front, after saying the words of institution (“On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took bread….”) and inviting the people to the feast, all that remained for me to do that day was stand there looking ministerial, whatever that means.
I stood behind the table inscribed with those words about remembering Jesus, and the people started filing forward. As they did, I had a vision. Not the blurry eyes kind; more the clear eyes kind that probably had everything to do with my knowing what many of them were going through. There was Bill, the retired minister on the left side in the back pew whose wife had passed away recently. This might have even been his first Communion since her passing, and so Bill limped forward on his bad knee. There was the single mother with two kids whose husband had repeatedly cheated on her and they had divorced. She was back in church, she and her children. On and on the list went, people facing the prospects of a job loss, a malignant diagnosis, all manner of little hells. There in that little church in Arkansas,I saw broken people coming to eat broken bread and be made whole again.
“Go in peace,” I said as the service concluded. Only instead of going, more people than usual flocked forward to say how moving the service had been, beyond anything they had experienced in church in a long time. Normally I might have said, “Well, thank you. The worship team puts a lot of effort into our services. I’m glad you found it meaningful.” After all, my mom taught me to be gracious when someone pays you a compliment. But this was not my doing—and of course it never is—so instead I just mumbled, “I know. That was amazing, wasn’t it?” So many of us had been stirred by something beyond us.
As I drove away, I thought, This is what we are supposed to do every week.Now when I use the word this, I mean the eating of the Jesus meal, not necessarily the emotional fireworks. I wasn’t so naïve as to imagine that every Sunday wouldproducegoose bumps as I dipped bread in the cup, even if I longed for such an experience. I knew then, and realize more so all these years later, meals feed us even when we aren’t all that stirred by them. That’s true for lasagna and salad, as well as bread and wine. Do you remember what you had for lunch two weeks ago last Tuesday? Do you remember anything special about the last time you had Communion, or the one before that? But meals feed us even when we go through the motions, because in many ways the motions go through us.
Hard to believe it’s been twenty years ago. Looking back, I give thanks to God for the journey I’ve been on ever since, the road to Emmaus, you might call it.