By Dr. Stephen Cook
Mid-November of 2012, days after that year’s presidential election finished, I wrote a note on my calendar: “This election felt divisive. Let’s have communion together the day after the next one.” Little did I know then just what the word “divisive” would come to mean in 2016.
2016 was a hard year. I’m not sure I know anyone who feels otherwise. Scan the headlines of whatever news source you prefer (though I do recommend news of the non-fiction variety). Listen to the conversations you find yourself having with colleagues and the people to whom you are connected personally or virtually. As far as I can see, the year we just finished had a sharp edge on it.
That point was made to me in a very vivid way the day after election day. The congregation I pastor did indeed come together for worship that Wednesday. We gathered in our sanctuary to pray for our community, our nation and our world. We lifted up our leaders, knowing that some of us were having a hard time feeling hopeful that night while, at the very same time, others of us were having a hard time curbing our enthusiasm.
The table was set at the front of the sanctuary and we enlisted youth – young people who are not old enough to vote just yet – to stand at communion stations where worshipers could come to receive the elements. We believed it was important for us to remember our unity in Christ, in spite of our political and ideological differences. And we believed it was vital that we keep in mind that our children are watching what we do in the face of so much division.
After it was over, one of our other ministers and I were tidying up the sanctuary and gathering up the communion elements. In one hand I was carrying a plate that had two of our church’s ceramic chalices balancing ever-so-delicately. As is often the case, I was trying to hold onto too much and one of those beautiful cups rolled off and shattered on the sanctuary floor.
Kneeling down to gather up the remains, I confess that I felt like this was a parable for what our nation had just experienced. Maybe it’s an illustration of what we still face: a brokenness in our communion that has some terribly sharp, dangerous edges to it.The associate pastor observed that, for as many pieces as the communion cup was in, there wasn’t going to be any fixing this one. Like Humpty Dumpty’s horses and men, there was no putting this back together again.
I’m afraid that’s a sentiment that I find myself bumping into more often than I would like these days. I hear it in the way people talk. I see it in the stories being played out in broken homes and relationships being pulled apart at the seams. I feel it; deep in my being: this sense of despair that so many have; this resignation to the reality that there is simply too much brokenness around and among us; that there really is no fixing this mess.
Admittedly I left the sanctuary that night after the election feeling a twinge of that despair myself. But, as fate (or I prefer to call it providence) would have it, I looked at my calendar for the next day. Lunchtime that Thursday listed a meeting; a meeting with African-American clergy colleagues from two other congregations where, for part of the last quarter of this year, we have been working to bridge racial divides and practice reconciliation among our churches.
We gathered for lunch and determined that we need to worship together. So we set a date – the third Wednesday in January – as the time we should do that. That’s the exact midpoint between the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on Monday and the presidential inauguration on Friday. Something feels right about us gathering then. It feels important that we mark that time together with prayer and reflection and, without a doubt, communion.
I harbor no illusions that we will make everything right that is wrong. But I keep hoping. I keep hoping that we will come a little closer. We will bind up some of what is broken. We will piece together something that sometimes seems too shattered to repair. That by worshiping and coming to the table together we will journey through 2017 with something more than how we seem to have ended 2016.
Maybe, as the year that has been has turned to the year that will be, we will discover again that the God who promises all things new really means it. Communion can – and will be – restored.
At least I hope so. Lord knows we need it.
So I say, “Lord, hear our prayer.”
Dr. Stephen Cook is senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partner congregation. Learn more about Cook and Second Baptist Church here.