Keystone Kommunion

For some, the sacrament of Holy Communion, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist -whatever you call it – is a solemn and holy occasion. It is replete with mystery, with grace, with all that church should be. Delicious, inclusive, meditative, intimate, theological.

And it is all of those things, except when it’s not, which is just about every month for me.

Everybody does communion a little bit differently. In our congregation, and I would guess in the majority of Presbyterian congregations, we celebrate communion once a month, on the first Sunday. Usually, but not always, we “do” communion by intinction, which means that the people come forward and take a little pre-cubed bite of bread and dip it into the chalice of grape juice. We say “the body of Christ” or “the bread of life” or “the bread of Heaven” and “the blood of Christ” or “the cup of salvation” or “the cup of forgiveness.” And the people partake, and then return to their seats as guided by one of the deacon ushers with all efficiency of a flight attendant giving safety instructions. We also sometimes pass plates of bread and trays of little cups of juice out into the congregation, but that does not make for very many good stories.

So here are three common communion mishaps that make it not a solemn and holy occasion but a joyful, mirthful feast.

1. Floaters

It always happens, and usually at the beginning. Someone very understandably drops their tiny piece of pre-cubed bread into the chalice. We always tell them to take another piece, that it happens all the time, but the partaker usually feels deep mortification, which I think is a spiritual discipline among the Opus Dei folks that involves flaying oneself with a studded whip. But I could be wrong. But maybe dropping the Bread of Heaven into the Cup of Salvation is the emotional or spiritual equivalent of flaying oneself. I actually wouldn’t know, as I always go last when there are plenty of floaters in the cup and it’s no big deal if my bread goes skinny dipping with the other pieces.

2. Drink Ye, All of It

Occasionally we have people who are from a different tradition within Christianity who are used to coming forward and actually drinking the cup. They’re usually from a tradition in which only men in white regalia will serve them, and in which they stick out their tongues and someone puts a communion “wafer” (read: piece of cardboard treated to look edible) on their tongue so they don’t have to touch anything. These people get confused by us Presbyterians. First of all, there might be women up front, and people who aren’t clergy. But our guests are game and hungry and faithful, so they help themselves to our nice yeasty bread cubes. Then they want the cup. Sometimes they get. Sometimes there’s a wrestling match. Sometimes they drink the floaters. Then we all pretend we’re not throwing up just the tiniest bit in our mouths, and we move on.

3. “But all I wanted was a little blessing…”

We have guests with us who want to be a part of the party but they’re really not sure about the whole body/blood thing. That or they’re scared of the floaters, or the person in front of them just drank the cup. Anyway, all they want is a blessing, but sometimes they’re not sure how to get that. I once attended a Catholic wedding, and one of the bridesmaids was Jewish. She had been instructed, when the wedding party was served communion, just to cross her arms over her chest to indicate she would not be partaking. In the heat of the moment, she forgot the choreography and instead clamped both hands over her mouth as though coming into any contact with the Body of Christ would magically indoctrinate her into the Christian Club, or would so offend the priest that he wouldn’t finish the wedding ceremony. (The couple is no longer married, but the bridesmaid is still a faithful Jew, so there you are.) Sometimes our people who just want a blessing do that too, put their hands over their mouths or cross their arms over their chests and that would all be fine. Unless the pastor and her serving partner misread the cue, and we end up trying to force-feed them the dang bread and cup, already! Yes, that happens. To me. More than once.

My husband is best on his feet at the spur of the moment and I love it when he offers the invitation to the table, because he manages to weave in the theme of the sermon or the image from scripture or some phrase from a hymn along with the graciousness to be someone who creates a floater or otherwise does thing not so decently or in order. And I love that, because really it is all about grace, about being invited to a table regardless of whether we’re hungry or sated, perfect or really screwed up, faithful or doubt-full, good/bad, wise/foolish, ballerina or bumpkin or clown.

clown communion

When I did a google image search on “clown communion” none of the clergy were the clowns. Pity. I think that’s more accurate!

So now, would you be gracious enough to share your Mirthful Feast stories?

Desperately Seeking Martha

No, not Stewart.

Today I learned that my friend Martha, one of my college roommates, died.  She was hit by a car in Brooklyn just yesterday, and I don’t know more than that and am not sure I will choose to find out more than that.  It is shocking, of course, when a friend from your youth dies.  She’s too young to go, and by that, I also mean that I’m too young to go.

We lived together in a suite of ten our sophomore year.  With Martha, hilarity ensued, and often.  We roomed together that one year, but not after that, and after college we lost touch.  We reconnected a few years ago at our 25th college reunion, and then on Facebook.  She blogged – “Desperately Seeking Jon Stewart” – and it was smart and funny, just like her.  She had written kind and encouraging things to me about this blog, which pales next to hers.  I was utterly delighted to discover how my college friend had grown into such a magnificent, talented, generous person.

So it’s death again, knocking at the door, IM’ing me at a most inconvenient moment.  Another untimely death at that, and the usual response: messages to other roommates around the country, missing the waste basket as I throw my soggy kleenex away, and  wishing I could take her family some tuna noodle casserole or a Hefty bag of tortilla chips to get them through when the shock wears off.  Grieving is such a patchwork – moments of utter loss, next to moments of the mundane.

I shared the news with my husband, and got about to the rest of the day.  Then dinner, then playing, then a family dance party.  Katy Perry’s “Firework” came on, and I was belted out with the divine Ms. P, and suddenly was so overwhelmed I just put my face in my hands and wept.  Yes, at Katy Perry.

I was taken back to our 15th college reunion, when two of our other roommates, Anne and Emily, and I stood out in the athletic fields watching this incredible firework show accompanied by a live band.  I remember standing there with my two dear friends, both of whom had married and had children, grateful for the blessing all these friends were to me.  As I watched the fireworks, I thought about friends who had died, their lights had burst and delighted and illumined, and then they were gone.  And now Martha is too.

We’ve started sharing memories, of course, to ward off the blow.  That might be the only good way to deal with grief – to tell the stories, the funny ones and the painful ones and the hilariously awkward ones.  For reasons I can’t remember, Martha was on crutches for a while our sophomore year, and one night sang out her lungs (for all her talents, singing was not one of them)  to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  One Friday night, as we thoroughly disregarded the law about the drinking age, we were walking along Nassau Street when a case carrying a Resusci-Baby fell out of an ambulance. Let just say that what unfolded was like what would happen if Eloise (the city child who lives at the Plaza) grew up and went to Princeton and found a Resusci-baby after having drunk a bit.  (We did eventually return the baby, much worse for the wear, but I swear there was a smile on its face that hadn’t been there before.  Martha had that effect on people and inanimate objects.)

After college Martha was a producer for the PBS show “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”  None of us who knew Martha was surprised by that.  She won an Emmy for writing for the PBS show “WordWorld.”  We weren’t surprised by that, either.  She married, had kids, wrote, laughed, and made orange juice come out of our noses, we laughed so hard.

So in her memory, I’m turning up the Bonnie Tyler.  And I plan to do something hilarious and outlandish this week.  I’ll keep you posted on that.  I hope it will make someone laugh, if only myself, because a little too much has hit the fan this time.

(Turn around) every now and then I get a little bit lonely and you’re never coming round

(Turn around) every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears

(Turn around) every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by

(Turn around) every now and then I get a little bit terrified and then I see the look in your eyes

(Turn around, bright eyes) Every now and then I fall apart (Turn around, bright eyes)

Every now and then I fall apart And I need you now tonight

and I need you more than ever

And if you only hold me tight

We’ll be holding on forever

And we’ll only be making it right ’cause we’ll never be wrong

Together we can take it to the end of the line

Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time (all of the time)

I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark

We’re living in a powder keg and giving off sparks

I really need you tonight,

forever’s gonna start tonight

Forever’s gonna start tonight

Once upon a time I was falling in love, but now I’m only falling apart

There’s nothing I can do… a total eclipse of the heart

Rest in peace, dear friend.