Recently, my husband and I attended church with my dad and stepmom when we were visiting them. It had been a stressful couple of months of work and family obligations, and we were ready to blend into a worshipping crowd to give our souls a break from the demands of being known and needed back home.
Toward the end of the service, the pastor invited the congregation to take Communion down near the front. Steve and I held back, choosing instead to observe since it was our first time there. But we also noticed that Rick, the elderly man we’d met just before the service, wasn’t going forward either. That’s odd, I thought. Didn’t he say he was a member of the church?
For a minute or two, I felt a twinge of regret as I watched men and women of all ages file down to the table. I had eaten the bread and drunk from the cup in churches all over the world. I should just go, I thought. But for some reason, this Sunday was different.
When Dad returned to his seat, he whispered to me, “See if Rick wants me to bring the elements to him.” He’d just met Rick that morning, too, even though the two men had apparently been attending the same church together for months. But I had missed what Dad had clearly seen: Rick couldn’t make his way down to participate in the Eucharist. I looked at him again, this time recognizing the signs that Rick probably wasn’t in the greatest of health: He struggled to get up and down from his chair. He also stooped a little, holding tightly to the back of the seat in front of him to steady himself as he stood singing.
I nodded, turning to Rick and whispering loudly in his ear: “Do you want to take Communion?”
“I can’t get down there,” he confessed, glancing down at his legs.
“My dad could bring it back here,” I said. Rick nodded, and I gave Dad the thumbs up.
Dad wound his way through the crowd to the table again. Then, carrying the plates, he headed back to where we were sitting in the rear of the sanctuary, the congregation singing Meredith Andrews’s “Not for a Moment” all the while. Since Dad’s first whisper, I had remained quiet, anticipating how it would work helping Rick take Communion.
When he tried to grab one, the tremor in his hand caused it to fall. He watched it land on the floor, and I knew he was embarrassed.
Leaning over two rows of chairs, Dad first handed me the plate of small wafers. I held it out to Rick, but when he tried to grab one, the tremor in his hand caused it to fall. He watched it land on the floor, and I knew he was embarrassed. I pinched a second wafer between my thumb and forefinger and held it out to him, gripping it tightly as his shaking hand brushed against mine. “The body of Christ, broken for you,” I whispered. He eventually latched onto it, and with his other hand, grabbed his wrist to help guide it to his mouth.
“After all You are constant. After all You are only good. After all You are sovereign ... ”
The congregation sang as Rick closed his eyes for a few seconds to pray and then ate the wafer. Tears welled up in my eyes.
He’s never going to be able to take the juice, I thought, as I handed the plate back to Dad. Instead of grabbing the whole tray of tiny cups, I took just one. Without a word between us, I turned to face Rick and lifted the tiny cup to his mouth. “The blood of Christ, shed for you,” I said, raising the cup higher as he leaned his head back.
When the cup was empty, I drew it away from his face and set it down on the floor. Rick wiped his mouth with the back of his shaking hand and then leaned toward me.
“My wife used to do that for me, but she died a couple of months ago,” he whispered. Tears ran down both our faces. We hugged tightly, strangers who had never laid eyes on each other, but somehow united as members of one body. It should have felt awkward, entering into such an intimate moment with a stranger. But Paul says when we break the bread and drink the wine of Communion, we are participating in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16). And in that moment, though I would never be able to explain how, it no longer felt as if Rick and I were two separate people sharing in a ceremony but more like a hand simply moving the cup to a mouth on the same body.
Before the tears could stop, Rick raised his shaking hands in the air and began singing again: “Not for a moment did You forsake me. Not for a moment did You forsake me.” I patted him on the shoulder then moved back near my husband, unable to do more than mouth the words to the song as the service ended. The regret I felt earlier over not eating and drinking the Eucharist melted away, and instead, I realized how full I was.