Photo via Tina Francis
We walked down by the water the last night of the Amahoro gathering. Tables adorned the lawn and a band was setting up instruments. Everyone dressed up, ready to celebrate yet not ready to begin the goodbyes.
Before we ate, Steve and Bonolo led us in communion. Our group formed a circle, opening and expanding wider and wider, a bit lopsided in some places, until everyone belonged.
We prayed, we reflected, and then Steve blessed the elements. He passed broken bread to the left and the right. Goblets of wine followed after.
Communion has both attracted and repelled me the past decade or so. It is an important sacrament and yet too often it has rung hollow. But that night, my heart filled to overflowing.
We gave the elements to each other. Around the circle, a man from DR Congo broke a piece of bread for a woman from Australia. Holy reverence at every turn. I made hushed conversation with two men from Sri Lanka until the bread appeared.
"The body of Christ, broken for you," he said, giving me the bread. I took and ate. Then I turned and ripped off a piece of bread for my friend.
"The body of Christ, broken for you," I told her. If only church could be like this, I thought. The echoes of tradition filled the night sky and my heart shifted, just a bit. Perhaps my church sabbatical was moving toward an end.
My beautiful friend René refilled the goblet with wine as it made it's way around the circle. I heard the lilt of her South African accent. "The blood of Christ, shed for you."
I grew up in churches that offered grape juice in tiny plastic cups. I never quite understood the point of sharing one goblet and its implied backwash. It made me uncomfortable and yet I could scarcely imagine not sharing this cup with my brothers and sisters.
The week's thoughtful discussions rang in my ears. I looked around the circle and caught the eyes of friends new and old. I heard the array of accents and languages. In all of our differences, we came to the Table. This was the Kingdom of God.
I took the wine and drank.
Almost a year has passed since I stopped going to church, confused, broken, and bruised. I needed to face the ghosts of churches past. I needed to heal.
Yesterday I filed after friends into the pew of an Episcopal church. The service had already started so I turned pages until I found my place.
We sang a Taizé song. The call and response of the liturgy. Beautiful, Scandalous Night reminded me of my friend Julie and our mission trip to Ecuador. All these gentle nods, comforts. The unfamiliar became familiar by watching those around me.
It's been so long since I darkened a church doorstep, so long since I've wanted to.
I cried off and on during the service. The songs, of course. The congregation reaffirmed our own baptisms after a child's baptism. The sanctuary filled with people committing to support this little girl in her life in Christ. The sermon testifying to kingdom living and grace-filled relationships.
I didn't know if I would go up to receive communion, not even as I stood to go forward. But there I was walking and there I was kneeling.
There was the priest speaking over me and handing me the wafer. There was the chalice bearer tipping wine to my lips. There was the community of saints all around me.
I was not alone.
I remembered taking communion at Amahoro. I thought of my friends and family and the past churches. I thought of the friends who know how hard church has become and how they've prayed over me. The body of Christ was with me.
The Spirit whispered and I nearly sagged with relief.
We responded to the sacrament by saying, "Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood."
I've heard it said that liturgy is going through the motions and maybe in some places, at some times, it is. In fact, we might need to go through the motions to remember what faith is all about. Yesterday the liturgy reminded me of who I am and who has gone before me. It sang to me of mystery, grace, hope, and love. It transcended current issues and honored tradition.
It told me I'm not alone. It spoke peace over me. It reminded me why I first believed. And yes, it's different than the evangelicalism I was raised on- purposefully so- but so much about it speaks of coming home.
I tried to end my church sabbatical every Sunday for the last month but it wasn't time yet, until it was. I can't say where I'll go from here.
Yesterday was one Sunday. One tremulous step back into a community of faith.