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By Dan Baumgartner on
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Nov 08 in Dan's Musings
“A sacrament is when something holy happens,” says Frederick Buechner. At the Deacons’ meeting this week we talked about the Lord’s Supper. We touched on scripture, delved into theology and covered the logistics of serving communion to our Hollywood Presbyterian family. I also shared a true story I wrote down a number of years ago in Seattle, because it seemed to get at the holiness of those moments.  
Rest, Tom Kelly
 
“The invitation is from the Lord Jesus Christ, to come, eat, drink…taste and see that the Lord is good.” They come forward, a few suits and ties but mostly jeans and sandals, carrying babies and carrying burdens. Filing down the center aisle, one after another:  “The body of Christ was broken for you.”  Like the crowds moving towards the Jordan, the line inches forward one person at a time. 
           
I know these people. A woman whose husband left her with two children. A man who drinks too much. A couple worried about the health of their four-year old. A single man, a fortyish woman whose marriage fell apart. Each one appears, emerging into sharp focus out of the grey anonymity of the line, to stand listening for the Word.
           
At one time I thought, as many do, that the stiff styrofoam-like wafer and juice poured from a little box were simply reminders, more or less helpful. I’ve changed. People do not line up for styrofoam and juice. They patiently wait for the touch of God’s Spirit, and somehow in this moment it comes. It may bring tears or smiles or furrowed brows or feigned disinterest. It comes, and seeps through the cracks in each person. It soothes and heals and interests, drawing each person in that moment into the very presence of Jesus.  A “sacrament” is what we call it this moment of mystery.  Indeed.  “The blood of Christ was poured out for your sake.” 
           
The blurred line moves another few feet, and grey-haired Tom Kelly steps into focus.  Tom is eighty now, tottering unsteadily forward with eyes that openly tell the world that most of what he now sees...we do not. His Alzheimer’s shuffle moves slowly, and he hangs onto his sainted wife, Mary Bess. Tom’s hands can no longer pick up the wafer.  They are hands that once held far too many drinks, until thirty years ago when they began to hold onto Jesus. In the years that followed, God “redeemed the years the locusts had destroyed (Joel 2).” For thirty years, it was Tom who walked beside other people struggling with alcohol. For thirty years it was Tom who told anyone who would listen about how Jesus had quite literally saved him.  For thirty years it was Tom who prayed out loud in worship, so eager and childlike it made the rest of us feel like maybe, just maybe, we could approach God too.
           
I pick up a wafer for Tom and put it between his thumb and forefinger.  His empty eyes look at me, confused, and so I help him dip it in the cup, then place it gently in his mouth.  He smiles warmly. Here is one who receives what he needs in Jesus. Tom begins to walk away, and I see the anxious look in Mary Bess’ eyes, wondering if she can gulp down her Jesus Supper before Tom strays or stumbles.  I serve Mary Bess from the cup in my right hand - “The blood of Jesus was poured out for your sake, Mary Bess”- gently detaining Tom with my left hand. Music surrounds us, the ensemble leading behind us and the congregation responding in front.  Tom steps towards me as my hand stops him, puts one sweet arm around me and then gently lays his head on my shoulder. We wait together for Mary Bess to finish and come to walk beside him. Slowly, they turn the corner and disappear down the outside aisle.
           
Rest now, Tom Kelly. Your call home is just around a few more bends. Take this bread, this juice, the body and blood of One who knows you best, who saved you from yourself. Lay your head on Jesus’ shoulder, Tom. The body and blood of Jesus, for your sake.
 

              - Dan Baumgartner


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