He wiped away tears on the shoulder of his jacket. His weight shifted back and forth as he filled the line forward. I placed the bread in his hands. His head was bowed at first but then looked up.
“This is the body of Christ, given for you.”
He held it in his hands for a moment, then dipped it in the cup of wine as my friend said,
“This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.”
He paused momentarily, then walked up the steps to join his bandmates. He strapped on his guitar and pressed the remaining tears from his eyes with his palms. He strummed a chord and sang,
Come back to the safety where you belong
You, prisoners of hope - return to your strongholds
The King is still - the King is still on his throne
I asked him about it after the service. He said, “I don’t know why I was emotional. I think knowing I am safe here, that I don’t have to hide or hold back, felt good.”
Wow. Did he get all that from coming forward to receive communion?
His band was passing through town. They were returning to Nashville and stopped to lead music for our Sunday service and perform a concert later that night. There was a time when the band was poised to be the next big thing in Christian music. The last time they were in town, they played the Coliseum for several thousand people. Radio stations used to play some of their songs in heavy rotation, but now all that had changed. Instead of hit singles, he started writing about what he saw working undercover in brothels in Thailand. He did reconnaissance work with an organization fighting the evil of human trafficking. The radio stations wanted songs that were “family-friendly.” Instead, he sang songs about the empty eyes and broken hearts of boys and girls sold by their families and prostituted to wealthy, white (often American) tourists. He wrote lyrics that dared to wonder where God is amid such horror. The label dropped them. The radio wouldn’t touch their songs. The venues got smaller and smaller.
I don’t remember what I preached that Sunday. No one does. I’m sure it was something about Jesus and love, but I don’t know what I said. I will, however, always remember my new friend walking down the aisle. In my tradition, we don’t talk about “taking communion.” Instead, we talk about receiving it. The bread and the wine aren’t something you just come up and grab at your leisure from a buffet table. It is something freely given and humbly received. We walk forward and humbly extend our empty hands. We hear a simple proclamation that reminds us, “THIS IS FOR YOU!” It’s not something I get by becoming a church member. I don’t get it because I believe in the right things in the right way or because I meet standards or requirements. It is given. It is a gift. It is the living Word of God, offered in a manner that I can taste, smell, and hold in my hands. It is given freely between one child of God, made in God’s image, and another. It is a multi-sensory experience of God’s love and grace.
The bread, wine, and proclamation of communion were tangible signs of the very safety and stronghold the singer sang about.
God is present.
God is with us.
God is with me.
God is good.