Thursday, November 15, 2007

God's Work

I have been gently, periodically inviting Nguyen to communion since we have been going to Grace. Two or three times he has come to the rail with us. In each case he has crossed his arms in front of his chest to receive a blessing.

Last night I told him about the priest at the Wednesday evening service. He shared as to how he invited his friend to take communion, even before he was baptized. His friend, for a couple of years, took communion. Then one day decided to be baptized.

I did it the other way around. I got baptized first. But at my baptism, I didn't intend for it to be a Christian thing. I did not recite a creed or agree to anything. I just surrendered myself to God and invited him into my life to do whatever work (lots) needed to be done. God took me up on my offer, sent Jesus knocking at my door and within a few days of the big dunk, I was a born again Christian.

My point is this. There are rubrics. There are guidelines and rules about how these things ought to happen. And then there is God's way. Which cannot be contained by the rules.

I was telling this to Nguyen last night because I think he wants, on some level, to take communion... but is afraid that he doesn't 'believe' enough to qualify. That, to me, is like thinking you need to be healed before you can take the medicine that will save you. Jesus was surrounded by doubters for his entire ministry on earth. I'd wager that MOST of his priests in the world have some levels of doubt at some points in their ministries. (correct me if I am wrong, anyone.) So, no. I do not believe that you have to sign a form or know what you are doing or put your thumb print on some cosmic agreement. I believe you simply have to be willing to open your heart to Jesus and let him invite you to the table. You are taking the body and blood of he who has saved the world into your physical self. It will heal you, whether you believe it or not.

Last night at Grace, a mentally ill, ex con homeless man took communion. He is delusional. He often just lies down and falls asleep in the pews. He stuck his finger into liquid pool of wax in the candle burning in front of him and traced a white wax cross on his forehead. During the service he sat muttering to himself. Who knows if this guy has been baptized. Who knows what is going on in his head. But God knows that he needs His love. His mercy. His tenderness. God knows he needs to take Jesus into his life.

I have taken communion three times in a Roman Catholic church. The first two times, I wasn't even a Christian. I didn't know the rules. I was attending church with friends and just walked up and received.

Then, a year ago, at the Christmas eve service in Newfoundland, I went to church with friends and took communion. I know it broke the rules. I'd normally not do such a thing. But the idea of Christmas without it was so unbearable I simply couldn't not do it. I called the priest ahead of time and put him in the incredibly uncomfortable situation of having to tell me yes or no. At the time, it was respect for the church that motivated me to make the call. Now I wonder if really, it is just between me and God. I think next time I'll let the priest off the hook. (He said yes, by the way, even knowing it was against the rules.)

Here's the thing: Is it possible that those times I took communion were the beginning of my conversion? Can it be that the body and blood of God seeped into my soul and began it's work, years before I was to finally accept Jesus? Did God take my hubris (or ignorance) and use it to good? It can't be an accident that I remember, 15 or 20 years later, the exact moments of communion.

I know that you, my readers, have differing opinions on this. Comments are welcome.

I pray for all those who have not yet received. Open their hearts, O Lord.

5 comments:

Nancy said...

When I went to a Methodist Church for a couple of years I learned that Wesley's theory on communion was that the sacrament is a means of grace. It doesn't matter what you believe or if you believe anything, through communion God can and will touch you by his spirit.
I like that theology. I believe it to be true, and your own experience is a perfect example of how this works!

Rachel said...

Hi Nancy,

If you start with the idea that the Eucharist is the presence of Jesus, it seems impossible for it NOT to be a vehicle of Grace! I wonder how that squares with, say, the Roman Catholic view. I have never checked out Wesley's theology before. Thanks for pointing me in that direction!)

Rachel

Mary Beth said...

I love this. I am a big Open Communion person!

for the very reasons you mention.

Shannon said...

Rachel,

at Catholic Sunday services at the prison, all sorts of people show up. Every now and then I explain how the Catholic service is different from the generic evangelical Christian services (we read from the lectionary, continuous through the whole year; every service is not an altar call..)

About once a month, I remind them more explicitly about communion and how to receive. Some haven't been to church in years.

I know that there are men who are not Catholic who come to communion, but I never ask a man who stands before me to show me his baptismal certificate. If he is in line, he is requesting communion and my job right then is to give it to him.

I have had to track back with guys and tell them they have to consume the host NOW and can't take it back to their cells. I've had to reassure some that Christ will not have a hissy fit because they haven't been to confession--they don't have the luxury of going down to the parish on Saturday afternoon, for goodness' sake!

I do reiterate what the Catholic belief and teaching is, but I don't do it right before communion. I try to take time afterwards so that all those who did or didn't receive communion know that Christ is with them in a particular way.

And then grace happens. Several years ago a Muslim man came to the services for weeks. He never received communion. He liked the quiet and reflection in the service. The third time he came, and every time after, when I was finished distributing Communion, he came and took the communion box, took a host and said, "The Body of Christ," and gave it to me.

You couldn't schedule or plan something like that.

Rachel said...

Shannon,

What a beautiful story. And wonderful comments, too. One of the most powerful things about confession, for me, is when the priest asks me to pray for him, a sinner. In a way, your Muslim man was doing just that kind of things when he offered you the body of Christ. Suddenly, you were making that sacrifice together. It is really powerful.