The Chalice

The Chalice August 29, 2011

I grew up in a faith tradition that celebrated the Lord’s Supper every quarter, four times a year. I remember my first Communion on a Sunday night: it was passed down the aisle in an offering-esque plate—a dry-white cracker, a doll-size cup of juice. I was in second grade and had recently made a profession of faith. My parents had shown me it was important, this miniature meal. I knew it mattered.

I was told that we participated in the meal rarely because it was so valuable. I remember asking why other churches had Communion every week and we didn’t. The answer was always the same: We can appreciate it more when it’s rare. If you do it every week, it isn’t as special.

When I moved to Syracuse 10 years ago, I found a small Episcopal congregation, full of loveliness: the cheesiest worship band ever, randomly scattered gray hairs, and the sweetest prayers I’d ever heard in church. I loved the earnestness of that church’s prayers for peace, just at the time when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were beginning. I loved the dearness of voices peppering out from kneeled bodies on pews when the pastor offered space for our own added requests: a woman’s son who was struggling with addiction, a family member fighting cancer, a financial need.

And I loved weekly communion. Preparing my heart alone in a pew among people I hardly knew, walking the short aisle to the kneeling bench before the altar, bowing my head as the bread was pressed into my palm. The pastor saying my name when he reminded me that Christ’s body had been given for me. I couldn’t believe the depth of reverence, the meaning that this form of celebration had given me. I began to feel like I’d been missing something wonderful.

My friend at that church was a mother and was pregnant with her second child. Each week when she received her bread and wine, her 2-year-old and unborn baby were prayed for, her son’s head marked with the cross. It felt like what every mother longs for—that physical blessing on her child: prayer with some meat on it.

I realized that I would never be able to go back to a little Communion here and there. For me, it marked my week. I was consistently reminded that I belonged to God not because of my own merit, but because of Christ. The Communion table wouldn’t let me forget the cross.

In all my churches since, I’ve been shaped by this constant repetition: The bread offered to me, the wine given. I began to always drink from that shared cup. I stopped being a dipper. I love the symbolism too much to worry about germs. I love seeing the old lady with her walker and knowing that my lips will touch that cup as well. It’s the same reason I felt the blessing for my babies when I took the wine and bread into my pregnant body. Or now, when I ask Christ to pass himself along to my five-month-old in my milk. It’s the family of God. This is our meal.

And so, here in a new church where the liturgy is the same but the faces are unknown, where every conversation takes effort and I get tired at the thought of the work to come in building a community, I can still stand beside my husband, our children in tow, and wait for the blessing.

My husband dips his bread, always has. I understand. But there’s this thing in me that needs to gulp as much as I can out of that shared chalice. I want the family with 8 kids down the aisle and the high school kids a few rows up. I want the single women on the back row and the blue-haired ladies in front of me. I want our shared taking of this wine. I want our mouths to know Jesus together.

And I want to leave knowing I am not alone here. I’ve always been in this family with them. They have always been in this family with me.

And so I drink.

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