Communion in Red

As I help uncover the communion
elements, I see a flash of red out
of the corner of my eye. I am new
to serving communion, still I have never
done so with someone under indictment.

I was very happy Matt had taken
the deliberate effort the last couple of
communion Sundays to line up servers.
Too often in our little church, communion
is served by those grabbed by the
nape of the neck on the way forward.
We are trying to keep our casualness
in check, be a little more organized, to
bring a little more respect to the communion
table; wearing button-downs,
or heels, even a tie. However, as I walk
forward, I do not see a fourth elder and
do not know who all else is serving. The
flash of red out of the corner of my eye
tells me. Lucius’ Incredibles t-shirt is a
little less formal than I had hoped for. I
am relieved however; he left the Mickey
Mouse earring home.

I sat in the front pew next to my
friend in red. I did not look up and
make eye contact, afraid my eyes would
show my hesitancy. The pastor speaks,
“and who is able to come to this table;
who is worthy? Who is worthy to commune
with God? Only one–Christ. And
Christ invites all under his wing.”

My heart is caught in ambivalence
between the beauty of the scene and the
feeling of unease about my friend in red.
It is a beautiful declaration of God’s grace
that we come to the table not because of
what we have done, but because of what
Christ has done. Yet at the same time,
my hope for more “suitability” around the
table of the Lord has gone up in flames.
Who is worthy? the pastor asks again.
Who is worthy? I search for a stone to
stand on. I am less than a year away
from ordination, I think, Lucius less than
a year from prison. Around the time I
am ordained, Lucius will be detained, for
five to ten years.

I remember back to Bristol Springs
Free Church, where I was reared, and
Paul’s list of the qualifications of elders
in 1 Timothy 3; things like being above
reproach, husband of but one wife, and
able to manage one’s own family well.
They weren’t too literal on the application
of these characteristics back there;
except for being a man. However, they
stuck to the loose translation: an elder
was a man who had shown with his family
that he could keep a tight rein on his
life, or at least keep the appearance of
such.

My inner protests start to give up,
like you do when there is no way to
win the conversation. I have nothing
on which to build my case. I serve the
church because Christ has chosen me,
and I have been so fortunate as to have
kept my hands on the reins. Lucius’
reins have slipped through his fingers.

Lucius awaits his trial, with little
defense to stand on, and for an offense
which warrants no sympathy, only outrage,
indignation, and being considered
beyond remediation. I hold the folded
paper with the communion liturgy on
it between us. We sing responsively,
Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of
the world, have mercy on us.

The pastor lifts the trays of communion
cups to each elder; “the blood
of Christ shed for you,”
knocking over
several cups in the process, Christ’s blood splashing onto the table. I wonder
what my Catholic friends would
do–how the priest would appropriately
consume the elements. The pastor
wipes up Christ’s blood with a cloth.
We all smile, expecting Christ will understand.
Christ is used to mingling
with things unclean, used to people
who fumble on things proper.

We share the elements with the
congregation, returning to the table.
The pastor serves the elders, “the blood of
Christ shed for you.”
We respond “Praise
be to God.”
He comes to Lucius last. Lucius
takes the tray in his grease-stained
fingers. All is silent, still, and Lucius’
voice pierces the room as boldly as his
shirt has: “Tom, the blood of Christ shed
for you.” “Praise be to God,” the pastor
responds, looking into Lucius’ eyes.

I remember Jesus’ words: “the one
who has been forgiven much, loves much.”
I wonder if this response of gratitude really
is a matter of how much one sins, or
just how aware one is of it, or how aware
others become of it. Perhaps the awareness
of forgiveness comes when the levees
of life break; when all comes crashing
in around us and we lack the faculties to
hold our life together, or even the desire to
try anymore; when all is lost, and you fall
prey to the mercy of others, vulnerable.

When the levees of life do hold,
we are tempted to claim credit, merit,
make distinctions. We are fans of the
grace of God, but wish for it to be held
in good order.

Today I stand in the midst of the stark
reality. Beneath the veneer of order, the
levees have burst. We stand together as
broken, vulnerable people; some with button-downs, others with heels, and some
with bright red t-shirts. We stand, each
of us, pastor or convict, or something in-between,
utterly in need of grace.

I relax. I let go. I stand at the Table
of the Lord, where spilt blood brings pastor
and convict together; where the holy
splashes onto the unholy, where the worthy
one gathers up the unworthy, where
we proclaim and dispense grace one to
another, where we unite in one desperate
voice like a banner of red; Lamb
of God, who takes away the sin of the
world, have mercy on us.

Dave Pettit now serves as the pastor of the Kiskatom
Reformed Church, on the edge of New York’s Catskill
Mountains, where he lives with his wife, two children,
and fly rod.