Who would have thought that a Baptist girl raised in the South could feel at home in an Episcopalian church in Scotland? But I do, most days. Sure, I still miss a beat between all the sitting, standing and kneeling, and I am not always sure which part of the service-book we are following. I know that we follow the blue service-book most Sundays and that sometimes we switch to a red one for a special service, but I just recently found out why.
It is taking time to learn my way around this foster denomination of mine. Yet like learning any new dance, after a while the rhythm seeps into my bones, and I find myself swaying to a familiar tune.
Whenever anyone is in a new culture, or a new church for that matter, I suppose it is natural to notice the contrasts between the new and the old. The most obvious difference between my Baptist churches back home and the Episcopalian one here is the focus of the service. Whereas Baptist services tend to center around the sermon, in my church here, the pinnacle of the worship is the Eucharist. It has been wonderful getting to participate in this blessed communion every Sunday. I suppose one could say that I am feasting after a very long fast. At my last church, I partook of the Lord’s Supper once in two-and-a-half years. I know the church had it more often than that, but it was often scheduled on holidays when students were not there. So now I am feasting, and what better way to do it than feasting on Christ’s body and blood, feasting in preparation for the great banquet that yet awaits us.
During communion, one of my favorite activities is to watch as the congregation slowly pours out of the pews and into the three aisles leading up to the altars where the wafers and wine await. It is never quite an orderly procession. It can be a bit messy—like life really. The children scamper and misbehave while their parents try to rein them in and lead them upward to receive a blessing. The older adults fumble with canes and lean on supportive elbows to steady their walks towards the front. Young couples, single students, empty-nesters and holiday vacationers all mix together, and in a muddled stream, they flow to meet the living water changed into wine.
We kneel together, and with outstretched hands, we receive the bread of life broken for our sins. The chalice is offered. One by one, we touch hands with the one serving the wine and press the rim to our lips to drink deeply. To drink deeply … but I never do. Why do I always sip the cup when there is so much more fullness to be had?
After bowing in prayer for a moment, I slowly return to my seat. I sit and ponder the mystery of what has just occurred. This communion is a sign of Christ’s atonement, but as with most symbols, it mediates as well as represents. There it is—re-presenting the atonement made possible by the body and blood of Jesus so that as I sip the cup and break the bread, I can experience at-one-ment with God. Christ, the true host, greets us at His Father’s table and enables this wonderful reconciliation. It is simply a mystery that I think I will never grow tired of pondering, and I get the opportunity to experience it weekly—until He comes again, until that heavenly feast is prepared and ready.