first communion

Posted: June 18, 2010 in beautiful
Tags: , , , , ,

She walked down  to the front of the church by herself, standing in line, only eight and yet making her own decisions to take the sacrament, making her own choices to put herself  in the moment of holiness. 

She stood expectant before the woman serving her, like Vermeer’s girl at the window, caught in the light, reaching to open the glass to something beautiful.  The little communicant held the bread, her short black hair cropped straight along the bottom of her chin , her head tilted as  in the painting, angled slightly down and yet opening to something outside of herself.

Then she took the cup, and held this too, perhaps too long, certainly longer than the adults before and after her, either not sure what to do or simply savoring the moment, maybe a little embarrassed, always looking down at the hem of her dress, sipping the blood of Jesus so carefully,  half emptying the cup and handing it over,  as if it were too special to drink it all. 

It was her first communion, but then firsts were now coming fast  for her. Only a few weeks before she prayed for Christ to live out his life in her. Shortly after that she was baptized, by her own choice.

The server took her cup from her, still half full, and she went back to her seat with her head still down.  The adults moved more quickly through the line after her. 

Not long after this,  a young boy came to the front. He had been served the sacrament already that morning, but now he was back for seconds.

“I’m hungry,” he said, looking up to the woman holding the bowl of bread.  “May I have some more?” She looked down at him and said softly,  “Certainly you can.” So he took another piece of the fresh, soft torn bread and stood there, before her, and ate it. Then looking up he said, “I’m still hungry. May I  have some more?” 

“Yes, you may have some more,” replied the woman with the bowl.  And so he ate again, standing at the altar hungry,  taking communion for a third time, eating the body of Christ again and again.

Then he returned to his  his seat.

It isn’t in the way things are usually done.

We adults take the bread and the wine by the book, as if by prescription, as if by mandate passed down from some ancient Pharmacopoeia Sacra, with the sacred liturgy and the defining rules for the administrations of the holy medicines. We know the drill; we hurry through, we get it done.

We nervously drain the cup; we never think to savor the bread; we don’t like to wait; we don’t know how hungry we are; we don’t go back for more.

And yet, what Jesus said about the little ones somehow comes to mind, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

To stand expectantly in church as if in a Vermeer, by the window with our arm extended, the warm light  falling softly on our skin,  to keep our heads tilted down a little longer, waiting, savoring, opening to something, beautiful, to hold the fresh bread between our fingers a little longer, to drink the glossy, purple cup as if it were to precious to use all up.

To eat and drink and yet know that we have not had enough, to come again to the front to stand in the holy place hungry, to ask for more of what we are starving to death for but can’t get enough of — this we might learn from a child.  

Perhaps if we could only — and yet in time —  as we grow younger — perhaps we can do just these things.

  1. Aaron Belcher says:

    Yes! Often I find myself overtaken and pushed, even violated by litany. Thank you for the wonderful word asking us to pause and revel in His presence. We do need more. Thank you for the time you took to smith this article together.


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