One of my duties as “Vicar Beth” at my internship site is visiting “shut-ins,” i.e., the members who, for one reason or another, are unable to leave their homes to join in worship on Sunday mornings. These visits include time for social interaction, prayer, reading the Bible, and Holy Communion. Now, I have always had a deep appreciation for the sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In fact, I joke that my sermons always end up either at the Baptismal Font or the Table. I cherish the way that God promises to be present to God’s people through bread and wine and water. In fact, I didn’t really think that it was possible for my appreciation of the sacraments to increase.
I was wrong. Sharing Communion with the shut-ins has taught me so much about God’s love and grace.
To illustrate: I went to visit a member, whom we’ll call Anna, who lives in a nursing home. Anna’s husband, whom we’ll call Jimmy, was spending the day at the nursing home with Anna, as he often does. As our visit continued, I offered to share Communion with Anna and Jimmy. Because of Anna’s health, she has a hard time grasping small things, such as a communion wafer or little cup of wine. This was no hindrance, however, as Jimmy confidently took the wafer and cup from me, communing his wife. I was reminded that we confess that God freely and generously gives all things to us, including, if Martin Luther is to be believed, food, shelter, friends, family, government, good weather, and everything else we need. Even when Anna could not grasp the grace that Lutherans confess is joined with the bread and wine, grace was grasping her.
The next week, I went to another member who lives in a nursing home. We’ll call her Ethel, and her roommate we’ll call Marie. When I arrived to visit with Ethel, Marie elected to go for a walk down the hallway so that Ethel and I could talk one-on-one. After discussing her health and family, I was just preparing to share communion with Ethel when Marie returned. Seeing the well-worn Bible on Marie’s nightstand, I invited her to join in receiving communion. She took one look at me and her face lit up. “Oh, that’s such a wonderful idea! The Blessed Lord must have just sent me right back to you in time,” she exclaimed. (“Bubbled” might be a better verb—this 90-something woman was downright effervescent.) When we were done and I went to take her cup so I could throw it away, Marie asked if she could keep it in order to remember the sacrament we had shared. When was the last time I wanted a memento from the Lord’s Supper? Never, because I take it for granted that I can walk into church on any given Sunday and receive Communion. I value Communion, but I forget that every time I receive it, it is a gift from God, grace that reaches into my life and reorients everything.
While I expected to learn about ministry on my internship, I never expected to be taught something new about the Lord’s Supper. I didn’t think that my love for the sacraments could be increased.
I am so glad God surprised me.