In this post Holly shares an experience she had during communion at Journey one Sunday. Holly is a gifted writer. You can read more from her on her blog, Through Lantern Waste and Beyond.
I was very young the first time I took Communion. Five, six. I don’t remember much about it. I remember I didn’t want to die and go to hell; I wanted to go to heaven, which, to me, at that age, was essentially Narnia, and Jesus would be a very literal Lion of Judah there, and that was all I needed to know. Sign me up for Narnia-Heaven and Jesus-Aslan. They gave me a chunk of bread and a little plastic cup with grape juice and told me to only drink it when they told everyone to drink it. We do this together. And that sounded lovely, like a toast (to Narnia!), and I balanced my cup very carefully so I wouldn’t spill. I’ve always been so very clumsy and prone to spilling.
And then they told me what I was supposed to do in the silent seconds before we were to eat and drink. Confess your sins. Come before the table with a clean heart. Leave no stone unturned, no foul deed unrealized. To come to communion, to this sacred memory with blood on your hands and darkness in your heart, is blasphemy. To not take this seriously could undo everything you’ve put your hope in.
This was about the time I stopped associating communion with the Stone Table.
I don’t know what churches told me these things, and I don’t know what pastors warned me with “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” or a rotten heart full of treachery. I can’t even tell you when these actual, verbal warnings subsided and when the lies and insecurities so deeply planted in my heart grew strong enough to run the show without warnings from others. But I can’t recall a time when I’ve ever approached communion with anything but sheer terror that I’m going to mess this up, not take this seriously enough, and I’m going to make God very, very angry.
My hands shake a lot. I’ve spilled a lot of juice on my hands.
I’ve always been so clumsy.
Have I always been so faint of heart?
Recently, I’ve begun attending a church where communion is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. After the message, there is music; there is freedom. Around the room are crosses, and at the foot of every cross, there is a table. Bread and wine. You go when you’re ready. You come as you are. You remember.
And there are a lot of things that are important to me in this. As an introvert, being able to take my time, as much time as I want, to think, ponder, remember, pray, sing, worship, kneel, and cry before communion has drastically altered my relationship with the Lord. In this time of reflection, I have moments to sit and listen, kneeling in awe before my King, and he has begun to whisper into those garden lies, the weeds that have grown up around my heart, the places I’m hiding even at the very table of communion.
There is joy in this suffering; there is freedom in this brokenness. Something about holding these tangible symbols in my hands, the bread and the wine, the body and the blood, wrecks me. Instills in me not an institutionalized terror, but a holy awe, a mighty fear of the God whose wrath was poured out on his son that I might be saved. As my clumsy hands spill the wine over and over again onto my long-stained hands, I find a new covering–not the fig leaves of Eden, the bonds of insecurity, but a new wine poured out over me that I may be washed white as snow.
I don’t think I knew what thankful was until I saw the stains and tasted the bread.
Recently, during one of these precious communions, one of my favorite passages began running through my head. It seemed strangely out of place, but I began to whisper the words to myself as I held the bread and the wine:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
I began to cry when I reached the words, “woe to me.” This was the posture of my heart, the cry of my soul. For years, I’ve approached this table, crying not, remember, but woe is me. I am ruined. And this is such an important place to be, a crucial moment to realize our ruin in the face of such splendor, our brokenness when we see holiness. That is the only way a fallen human can respond to the sight of our God.
But I’ve been stuck here. For my whole life, it seems. I’ve been crying, woe is me, I am ruined! And never truly tasting what this new wine means; never remembering how the bread was first brought to change us.
The next words of the passage floated through my head:
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
As the music swelled and my shaking hands reached to put the bread to my mouth, the line repeated like a shout through my mind: “see, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
I almost dropped the bread.
But it touched my lips.
This is the new covenant. See, this has touched your lips. I have touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.
I am unworthy. I am a woman of unclean lips.
This body was broken for you. See, it has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.
There is more I must confess. There is more I must do.
See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.
I cannot come as I am. I am unworthy.
Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.
I spill the juice again and it mixes on my hands with my tears as the reality of grace scandalizes me. I’ve made communion a metaphor for my brokenness, not my salvation. I’ve made this table a monument to my own pursuit of righteousness, to my trying and failing to be good enough, to confess enough, to be afraid enough instead of remembering Him.
This is the New Covenant. This is the Great romance. These physical properties are symbols like a wedding ring of my Savior’s promise, his sacrifice, only they are more powerful because these tangible reminders are ones I can consume, take into my very person. The coal only touched Isaiah’s lips.
See, the bread and wine has touched your lips. Now, eat and drink.
This bread, this wine, not only touches my lips and makes me holy; I consume it. I consume grace. I consume grace. I consume the New Covenant. What washes away my guilt and atones for my sin lives inside of me, and I drink it anew every morning.
The bread and the wine is your coal. And my New Covenant means grace in you. Holiness in you. Me living in you.
I am afraid. I’m afraid I can’t live up to this. “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.”
The veil was torn by body and blood.
I’m terrified. “At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
I shook the earth with my final cry and rolled away stones like I rolled away death.
Woe is me. Woe is me.
Your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.
So very often I throw myself on the altar and pray fire fall down and consume me. Never have I stopped to truly consume the sacrifice that already came down and died for me.
The New Covenant. When will I begin living this New Covenant instead of the old? This was the question I asked myself that day, and these were the reminders. This encounter with the living God at the foot of the cross, at the table of communion, has ruined me, but in a way where I can move beyond. Because every time I sit down with cup and bread, it feels like my first date, my wedding day, my final meal all rolled into one. And the love my Abba speaks over me, the way he breaks my skin, breaks my callouses, to love what’s beneath, brings me to tears, brings me to my knees. This is the scandal of grace, this relentless love, this glorious pursuit. I am consumed by his beauty, the way he takes my ashes and ruin and makes me beautiful.
And we must consume grace, mercy must touch our lips, so that we may remember this.
Even if our hands our shaking. No matter how many times we spill.
We’ve always been clumsy.
See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.