Thursday, June 17, 2010
The Preacher’s Corner
Humorous malfunctions at the communion table
This week we had a somewhat larger congregation than I was expecting, so that when we celebrated the Holy Communion, we ran out of bread. Four worshipers went without.
Since I had set out the bread and wine myself, and had done so rather sparingly, I was embarrassed, and thought of our Lord’s words, “O ye of little faith!”
An unexpected larger attendance is always a nice problem to have, and since everybody was good humored about the communion bread, we all went home, I think, having had a satisfactory worship experience.
History is filled with all sorts of humorous malfunctions at the communion table. My favorite is a story that comes from medieval England, where a parish church gathered on Christmas Day for a special communion service. This was in a time of great hardship, and bread was a precious commodity.
As the preacher went on (and on) with his sermon, one of the village dogs crept in, and spying the tempting loaf at the altar, made a run for it, and in a single bound, leaped up on the table, snatched the bread, and escaped through an open window! Because there was no other bread at hand, the service had to be cancelled, and the worshipers went home disappointed.
This story is told, by the way, to illustrate why, in many churches, the altar is “railed in.” The railing is not there simply for convenience of kneeling, but to protect the holy table from animals.
An amusing incident (looking back, now), occurred in a community near Holly Springs, when the ladies of the altar guild were all to be out of town on a particular summer Sunday, and came early in the week to spread the Lord’s Table. This was a congregation that used grape juice instead of wine.
When the Sabbath arrived, something prompted the pastor to check the arrangements before the service, and it was a good thing he did, for all that grape juice had molded and the little cups were all covered by a hideous green slime!
He quickly summoned helpers from the adult Sunday school class, and after someone made a quick run to the store for more grape juice, they washed and refilled all the little cups.
The fact that we smile about such things illustrates our modern attitudes. It was not always so.
Jon Cannon, in his wonderful book on the English Cathedrals and the people who built them, tells a story that sums up perfectly the difference between ancient and modern spiritualities. Jon Cannon says that once, long ago, when a monastery caught fire, the abbot called for half of the monks to drop to their knees just where they were and pray.
The other half, he directed to form a bucket brigade to fight the fire. When the fire was extinguished and the monastery was saved, the abbot gave all the praise to the monks who had said their prayers.
Most of us still acknowledge the power of spiritual things, but we do so with less awe. We have, for the most part, de-mystified the rituals of religion.
Hopefully in doing that we have kept our faith in the God whom the rituals set forth. That is the place for reverence; but on earth our frailties and foibles are just that; shadows that pass away before Him who is all in all.
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