First Congregational United Church of Christ
Great Falls, MT
April 7, 2019
The Rev. Lynne Spencer-Smith
Matthew 4:1-4, 11 (NRSV)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NRSV)
23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Prayer – O Nourishing One, you are revealed to as as the bread of heaven, the light of the world, giver of every good thing. We give to you this day our time, our hearts, our presence and simply seek that your spirit would nourish us, not just with what we need but with what you need. May our souls be open to receive that which you have to offer this day. Amen.
It started as a subtle movement at the front of the church. Just a flash of energy that was different that the pendulous movement of adult legs and bodies slowly making there way to and from the communion rail. I wasn’t even sure that it was something until it, she, made her way farther back into the congregation and took her seat.
As part of a seminary assignment, I was visiting different churches and this particular Sunday, I worshipped with an Episcopal parish near the seminary. The sanctuary was made of stone and had massive exposed beams across the ceiling. It was longer than it was wide so it gave the impression of being in a tunnel. Light from outside was filtered in through beautiful stained glass windows. The floor was tile so every movement, every footstep was audible.
I don’t remember the sermon from that day. I don’t remember the liturgy or what the choir sang. I don’t remember the hymns that were sung. But, forever in my mind I will carry the image of a young girl, having made her way to the communion rail with her grown-ups (I’m assuming parents), and, having received the nourishment of the bread and the cup, she danced her way back to her seat. Danced. Having received the nourishment of the bread and the cup… she danced back into life.
Isn’t that what we should all be doing upon being nourished with the goodness, justice, and grace that is given at the table of our Lord?
Years ago, about the same time that this young prophet danced her way into the corners of my memories, the United Church of Christ was engaged in a broad conversation across the denomination about children and communion. I don’t know what got it all started but my children became the center of it in the church I was serving as a student at the time. We had come from a church where children received communion from day one if their parents wanted them to. And so, my kids had always received communion. As a church member, I carried them as infants to the table and, when they were old enough to physically do so, they had some of that wine-soaked bread and goodness.
However, the church I was serving as a student was one where kids waited until they were confirmed to take communion. The problem arose because no one told me that. So, when the communion trays came past my kids, they helped themselves to the bread and little cups of juice, just like they had always done. It didn’t go unnoticed and was brought to the attention of the Sr. Minister, and, in true UCC style, a committee was formed, they studied the issue, and, a couple of years later, took a vote. Many years later, children now receive communion at that church.
It’s always nice to know that you’ve left your mark on the world as you move through it. Sometimes it happens by accident… or not. Sometimes the Holy Spirit works really well through lack of information.
Whenever there is a conversation about children and communion eventually leads to the claim that children don’t understanding what communion is. Do any of us? Do we really have the ego to say we fully understand the workings of the Holy Spirit in something that has been central to the Christian practice of faith for centuries? Did the disciples have a clue what was being handed to them when Jesus gave the bread to them and invited them to take and eat and remember? Did the early church know fully the depth of the new covenant they had received and passed along to us when they shared in that cup? Will each of us, today, as we pull ourselves out of our seats and take the journey towards grace really know what it is that God is offering to us? Do we as a church fully get the justice that is reflected in the invitation that is given to everyone…. everyone?
I don’t understand it fully. I can’t explain what happens to everyone at the table and why. I’m continually surprised at it all. I hope that’s not a disappointment for you. But, I suspect that you don’t fully know either because how can you? How can we be so bold as to say, yep, I’ve got God’s grace all figured out, let me explain it to you. God doesn’t need our explaining. God needs us simply to participate and live into the grace and justice that has been extended to us.
So we continue to offer what we really don’t understand because somewhere, some how, we trust that we will be nourished. Probably because we have been nourished in the past by the mystery of what awaits us at this table. It feeds us equally, the rich and the poor. It nourishes deeply progressives and conservatives. Here the grieving are consoled. The lost find a place. Those who have felt separated from God are welcomed home – the best description of forgiveness of sin there is. The joyous are encouraged and empowered. Somehow, nourishment is given in body and soul and, sometimes, sometimes, it leads to dancing.
At our Wednesday night service, I asked those in attendance to think about a powerful memory they had of communion and when I asked them to share what it was like, someone said, “magic.” Do you know what the definition of “magic” is? Webster defines it as “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.”
I’d say there was a little bit of magic going on the day that young girl danced back to her seat after she had been nourished at the table. I like to hope that she took that dance out into the world with her that day to let the supernatural force of God’s goodness within her influence the course of events in her life and the world around her. My prayer today is that some of that magic will happen to us as well for the nourishment of God awaits us. Amen.