This is a note about my mom and Communion I published on FB on March 26, 2010. Today, my son Christian published a blogpost about his 2-year-old daughter and Communion. Check it out and see how things change over the generations and yet how they stay the same: http://networkedblogs.com/lNLvj
We celebrated the Lord’s Supper at church last Sunday morning. It is a beautiful service done in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, but remembering is not something Mom does very well. She is in the mid to late stages of Alzheimer’s and Communion has become very confusing for her.
She grew up in the Baptist church where Communion is generally served once a quarter and on special occasions. The elements are passed by the deacons, and the congregation prayerfully holds them until, following prayer and a word of meditation, everyone eats or drinks communally. Her recent experience has been very different. My brother and my son both attend the Disciples of Christ or Christian church where Communion is a part of every service, and the elements are taken individually. She spends several weeks a year with my brother and visits Christian with us as often as possible, so most of her recent Communion experience has been of the DOC kind. A defective memory, poor impulse control, and the infrequency of the experience make the Baptist method difficult for her. The last time we had Communion in our home church, I tried to instruct her ahead of time.
“Mom, when they pass the bread, just take it and hold it,” I whispered as the deacons started to make their way down the aisles.
“What,” she said in a rather loud voice.
I repeated my instructions a little louder.
“Just take the bread and hold it,” she repeated to Daddy, loud enough for several rows around us to hear.
A minute later, when the plate was passed down our row, she took a bit of the cracker and promptly put it in her mouth.
When she noticed that everyone else was holding theirs, she announced, “I ate mine too soon.”
“It’s okay,” I reassured her as I broke mine and gave her part of it.
The whole process was repeated when the juice was passed, and it’s really hard to pour from one of those tiny cups to another without making a mess.
This week, considering my previous lack of success, I opted to skip the instructions and just let her take Communion in her own way, hoping it would lead to less confusion and a more worshipful experience for all concerned. As the deacons began their work and the harp played softly in the background, I bowed my head and remembered. I remembered Jesus and His love, and I also remembered previous Communion experiences.
Shortly before our wedding, my first husband announced that he didn’t feel he could attend the Baptist church. I felt that as long as we found a Christ-centered church where we could worship together, the name on the door wasn’t important. We found a lovely Episcopal church close to our new home and went through confirmation classes. We finished the classes and the Sunday came for our first Communion. I approached the altar and knelt at the rail, trying hard to focus on the meaning of what I was about to do but more than a little intimidated by the unfamiliar ritual. The priest placed the wafer in my waiting hands, blessing it with the words, body of Christ. I placed the wafer in my mouth and whispered a prayer of thanksgiving as it melted in my mouth. And then came the cup.
Later, my husband took delight in telling how, at that moment he could feel my rising tension. He attributed it to the fact that I was raised in the deep south and that the couple just before me on the kneeler was black. That wasn’t the problem. It was the cup. THE cup – one. I was used to having my own, tiny, sanitized, personal cup. I wasn’t used to sharing. We didn’t share at home, and we didn’t share at church. Growing up I drank out of the jelly glass with the cartoon characters on it, and my brother drank out of the glass mug that came with peanut butter in it. Mom and Dad had more grown-up glasses, but they each had their own, and nobody drank after anybody else. Even at family gatherings where chaos reigned, nobody shared. There was always a pen available so I could mark my plastic glass to insure its safety. But here there was only ONE cup. I watched in dismay as the priest held the cup to the lips of each parishioner, then wiped the rim with a white linen cloth and turned the cup slightly so the next parishioner wouldn’t drink from exactly the same spot as the last one. Like that was going to protect us from viruses and germs and other deadly microorganisms. But I remembered where I was and why, I sipped the wine, and I learned more about the community of Communion.
After a year or so, my husband started attending church less and less until I was finally attending alone, so I returned to the Baptist church. Christian seemed to enjoy church, especially the music and going to the donut shop beforehand, so he went with me. But he always had questions about Communion. Baptists practice closed Communion. When I was growing up in the buckle of the Bible belt, that meant you had to be a Baptist to participate. With time, the old ways have relaxed a bit, but the preference was still that a person be a believer before he participated. Inevitably, this always led to the why can’t I have some, too questions, and I tried to use these as teaching moments. The results of those teaching moments and all the moments in Sunday School and church came one morning on the way home from a service that had included Communion.
“Next time we have Communion, I’m going to take it,” Christian announced as he played with his hand-held game.
“You are?” I answered, wondering where this came from. “What’s going to be different next time?”
“While you were taking Communion, I asked Jesus to come into my heart, and He said I could.”
Can’t argue with that!!
About twenty years later, Christian was living in Colorado with his wife and a son of his own. He and Amy, a DOC minister, had planted a new church in Pueblo and were having meetings in their home on Wednesday nights. David and I were there for a visit and were privileged to worship with them during one of their early services. Disciples and Baptists are brothers in more ways than one; after services, there was food. My grandson Mattias was at that crawling around and pulling up stage, and as people milled around and visited, he spotted the remains of Communion on the coffee table. With his eye on the tempting loaf of bread, he grabbed the edge of the table, stood, and stretched out his little hand toward the treat. I was just debating about how to distract him when Christian came up and knelt beside his son. While my narrow-minded side worried about the propriety of giving a baby Communion bread, Christian pinched off a small bit and put it into Mattias’ waiting mouth.
“Remember,” he whispered. “Jesus loves you very, very much.”
Last Sunday my time of remembrance came to a close as the deacons returned to the front and the pastor stood up pray. My plans for dealing with Mother didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. When the time came for everyone to partake, she had forgotten that she had already done so, and she looked alternately at Daddy and me with sad, puppy-dog eyes, wondering why she hadn’t been allowed to participate. But if there is any up-side to Alzheimer’s, it’s that even the hurts and disappointments are quickly forgotten. Before Pastor Ken had made his closing remarks, the whole incident was lost in a mass of plaque-encrusted nerve tangles.
But one day she’ll get an invitation.
“Helen,” Jesus will say, “Why don’t you come home for supper.”
She will sit at His table, surrounded by the loved ones who are already there. And when she eats the bread and drinks the wine, she will remember.