Have you ever had communion with lemon meringue pie and a small glass of tea as the elements? I, along with five others, did so yesterday around lunch time. Now let’s just go ahead and get the orthodox theological stuff out of the way right off. I know that some folk, upon hearing such, would be appalled at the idea of communion with no bread or cup (with grape juice or wine) and would somehow want to react in holy defense of the tradition. Under normal circumstances I would feel sorry for them. Under these circumstances I would be terrifically annoyed because they would only be giving evidence of no awareness whatsoever of the situation or of the people involved. And some might add another layer of name-calling by hearing that I, an ordained minister, did not start the process by reciting words of institution, breaking bread, and pouring the cup. It started with the initiative of a beautiful woman as she lay in a hospital bed, suffering from an illness from which she will not recover.
Five of us had driven to another state to visit our dear friend, Sally. What we each shared with her is ours to remember forever. But one beautiful moment bears repeating. The lunch tray was brought into the room just about noon. Sally does not have much appetite at all and it is difficult for her to eat. She was encouraged to take a few bites. When asked what she would be willing to eat, she gazed at the lemon pie and said, “Pie.” But after taking a bite, she refused more. Instead, she sliced a small piece of the pie and handed the little plate to the individual standing bedside left and with her eyes communicated “take.” Someone whispered “communion.” Slowly the plate passed from hand to hand around the bed. The one having received cut a small slice for the next person. This was followed by a sip of the tea.
Like many other things of the Spirit, communion carries a definite element of mystery. Normally it does involve bread and cup placed upon an ornate table in the center of a room. There is precision and protocol and, yes, in some settings that table is “closed” with an intention of refusal to certain ones because of something particularly unique about them. What great offense that refusal is to the very spirit of the table! But the very meaning of it all can be lost in propriety and a sense of entitlement.
So, what is its meaning? Regarding the basic features of the table, Jesus shared a meal with a circle of friends and worked with what he had. Before him on the table that day was bread and wine. If he had had only grapes, olives, and water, I believe he would have distributed that. That moment was not about food categories. It was about friends who had shared a journey that, in a sense, was shortly going to be different. The one thing that was continually impressed upon them was that they were to love one another and the journey would not be whole unless they took time to be together.
Lemon pie and tea will do just fine, thank you.
As a footnote, albeit an important one, those moments became an experience of prayer. No one said, “let us pray,” no one bowed their head, no one voiced words that sounded like prayer and there was no amen. But it was prayer.