12 March 2014

Stranger in church

This past Sunday I'd gone up for communion, received the bread, and then reached out for the cup - only to be denied it.

I had taken the bread and ate it, which meant that when I came to the cup, I had no bread left to dip in it, which was the appropriate means of receiving communion in this place. I had forgotten the customs here, reverting to those I had practiced for the last 7 years. When I reached out to drink from the cup, the person holding it was probably as startled as I was: he in seeing my hands reach out to take the cup and me in not receiving the cup. I moved away quickly, neither dipping or drinking, thinking that it did not matter so much.

Yet, somehow it did matter. Perhaps the fact that I needed to joke about it afterwards should have made me realize it sooner. It did not seem like it should matter, as it was my second time at communion that day. But perhaps the fact that I had chosen to participate in communion for a second time that morning, something I would normally never do, should have also clued me in to the fact that something more was going on.

During the first service's time of communion I had felt rushed, still chewing on the bread while I was supposed to be drinking the grape juice; the juice still in my mouth while I started focusing on the song we would sing to close. It felt so different from the communion I knew in Amsterdam, made up of passing the bread and cup to one's neighbour, speaking to each other that this is is Christ's body and this is the wine of the kingdom. It was even more different from the ceremony and devotion of the Catholic masses I have been attending periodically these last few weeks; masses that I have attended, but not been partaking of. A second chance to focus on the wonder of the Lord's Supper seemed to be a gift, a compensation  for the absence of a spiritual event that I used to be able to participate in at least once a week in Amsterdam.

But the spiritual event of communion took a different turn. I discovered that it was more important to do things with a proper order and to honour those worried about another's germs than it was to be hospitable to one who took the wrong actions in communion, even if I should have known better. The focal verse of the sermon - Exodus 23:9 "You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt" (NRSV) - took on a different meaning. The message I heard was not simply about how I need to learn to extend hospitality. It was also reminding me that I am still a stranger, even if I speak the language of this land and I do not remember Egypt.

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