Thirdly. All who desire an increase of the grace of God are to wait for it in partaking of the Lord's Supper. – John Wesley
I am not a pastor (though I did engage in brief experiment with having the title a few years ago), but I do enjoy spending a good bit of my time and energies helping pastors in different ways and accompanying them in their very difficult work. One of those ways which I enjoy most is when I have the opportunity to assist a pastor in serving Holy Communion.
When I am one of the people who gets to help distribute the bread and juice to others as together we all seek to take in the body and blood of Christ, I get a different view on what is happening. I get to see more faces, more hands, and more eyes of the people participating alongside me as we take part in this ancient form of following our Messiah. I've seen all kinds of things when I'm on that side of the Lord's Supper.
Some of the things I've seen haven't been pretty. Once, when Communion was being served in the method that pastors call "intinction" (when people are given a piece of bread to dip into juice and then eat), I saw a woman realize that she had begun to eat her bread before the arrival of the cup. Then, in one of those war movie-like ultra-slow motion moments which I was too far away to stop it, she took the bread back out of her mouth and dipped it in the cup while the pastor was already looking ahead at the next person. Lesson learned: I will always watch the person I'm serving, and–if need be–assure them that Jesus doesn't mind if they did things out of order and that another piece of bread is available.
Thankfully, seeing those kinds of things has been extremely rare. Much more often, I see things that aren't particularly important in any way, but just interesting observations. Some people like to fold up their piece of the body of Christ while others prefer it fluffy. Some people chew the bread slowly and others pop it as if it were medicine. When the juice is distributed in small cups for each individual, some people like to wait with their bread until they also have their juice in hand. Then, of course, there are those who look very comfortable with such a small glass and almost attack it, throwing their head back like it's a shot glass.
And even more thankfully, more often than those things, I get to see things that remind me of the holiness of the moment: like when I see an elderly man hobble to the front with his cane but still insist on kneeling to take Communion; or when I see a line of people waiting for the Lord's Supper which includes people from across every distinction that gets drawn in the world around us–men and women, different races, young and old, educated and uneducated, rich and poor–each coming to Jesus' table together. Some people's faces express pain, others' joy. Some people's hands are rough and mature, others' are soft with the large majority of what they will touch in life yet to be done. Some people's eyes are young and reveal that they can't possibly fully grasp the significance of what they're about to do with that bread and juice, other people's are old and also reveal that they can't possibly fully grasp the significance of what they're about to do with that bread and juice. There are many distinctions, but we're all there together, each and every one of us as equally undeserving of the invitation as everyone else.
When we receive that bread and juice, we–in the most physical, concrete way possible–are inviting Jesus Christ to come into the deepest places of who we are. Or, I guess it would be better to say that we're accepting his invitation to be a place where he comes to dwell. Either way, it's worth doing, and worth doing at every opportunity.
I hope that you have the opportunity to receive the Lord's Supper during Advent, because it's one of the best ways we have to wait on him. We do it repeatedly throughout the course of our lives because as he makes his home ever more fully in us, there is always another room in the houses of our souls that he hasn't yet occupied.
But there's another angle to this, which blows my mind: Waiting on God by taking the Lord's Supper during Advent is especially appropriate because, as we'll explore next week, one of the themes of Advent is the reminder to live in a constant state of readiness for Jesus' return. We await the new heavens and new earth when all of the dead will rise to new life and God will finally and fully set everything right–forever–with the One reigning at the center of all of it who said, "Do this in remembrance of me."
The Bible tells us precious little about what will happen then, but it repeatedly compares that day to a banquet. To my memory, Jesus only mentioned one thing that he would do with us, after that day when what has happened to him in his resurrection will happen to us and to all of creation–when everything is made new: "I tell you, from this moment I will not drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it in a new way in My Father’s kingdom with you."(1)
The words Jesus said to his disciples just before that are the same words we hear each time we're invited to partake: "Take, eat. This is my body...Drink from this cup, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant..." In other words, here's the mind-blowing part: We will receive Jesus' supper again with him in the future, when all things are made new, and every time we receive it in the present is an advance participation in what, one day, we will do together again with him.
So we eat, we drink, and we wait–in remembrance of him.
The Advent suggestion for this practice is simple: receive the Lord's Supper at every opportunity you're given.
A Prayer for the Day:
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.*
Readings for the Week*:
*Prayers are from The Book of Common Prayer and readings are from the Revised Common Lectionary. (1) Matthew 26:26-29