I’m trying to decide if I’m glad I know that we’re having communion tomorrow in church, or if I would rather it come as a surprise. I go to a Baptist church, and in every Baptist church I’ve been in, we’ve tended to have communion about once a quarter, on average—although I guess there might be special communions on Easter Sunday and the last Sunday before Christmas. Somehow, I’ve managed to always miss it since I abandoned my faith—working many Sundays and often visiting family during free weekends leaves me inconsistent in my attendance at my own church. This week’s emailed newsletter gave me the heads up—and now I can’t sleep. Should we even go at all? Will people be watching to see if I eat that tiny bland cracker or take that single swallow of room-temperature grape juice?
I was told as a child that if you take communion when your heart isn’t in the right place, God will judge you. I don’t think that’s a popularly proclaimed Baptist belief, although scripture does support the claim. I had one pastor who preached it with passion, and it stuck with me. I have always feared taking communion when my heart is unworthy to partake. I was saved years before I was baptized, and I never took communion until my baptism had taken place. Before I would participate, I would take care of any unconfessed sin or any conflict in my relationships with other believers. The announcement in the church bulletin the week before communion always left me with time to do those things.
I had the same announcement this week, and what am I doing to prepare? Do I have unconfessed sin? Oh yes—I have done just as many immoral things as I did prior to the time that I stopped feeling broken about them before a God I no longer believe in. I still think these things are wrong, but the battle is within myself—I address them to build my character and live with integrity, not to purify my heart before a holy God. I’ll admit that my struggles have increased since I left faith—I don’t think that’s some sign that a moral life is impossible without God. Rather, I think it’s similar to what a college freshman might go through upon realizing that her every move is no longer scrutinized. I’m exploring freedom, and I’m doing it immaturely. It breaks my heart. I still know it’s wrong, and I think I’m starting to grow out of this phase. I want to like myself as much without Jesus as I liked myself with Jesus, and I’m convinced that this is possible—although this is not currently the state of things. Does confessing my sin here count for communion preparation? It seems to me that it requires more vulnerability than confessing my sin to a God I’ve never seen. I certainly feel more exposed, more fearful of your thoughts of me than of God’s. I’ve never met most of you, but at least I know you exist. I know you have opinions and form your own words in response to mine, even if you never write them or say them. And those of you who I know in person…I’m terrified that you would cast me away if you really knew me. But at least you would act. God never did anything, no matter what I told him. I would rather be punished than ignored, if it means I could be assured of his presence.
Is a tiny wafer as close as I can get to having his arms wrapped around me? Is a thimble-sized cup of grape juice an acceptable substitute for the warmth and the pulse of a living God?
Don’t worry—I won’t take communion tomorrow. I don’t know how awkward it will or will not be to simply pass the tray along the row, but pass it I will, if we go at all. I’ve given up my seat at the table. I didn’t even leave anything behind to save it with. I won’t do something in remembrance of an event I never saw. Crackers and juice is a child’s afternoon snack, not an acceptable substitute for God. The fact that we need it at all is evidence to me that he is not there. Would we keep doing this in remembrance if we could truly know his presence every day?
“This is my body, which is given for you…This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
I am broken. I am pouring out my heart. Where is he?
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 by user AlanScottWalker)