On Christmas morning, I had the opportunity to serve at the altar at my dad’s church in Thunder Bay (aka, “be an altar boy”), and the following piece I wrote in 2002 came to me. It can be viewed in its original context here.
Randomness, Issue 54: Communion
One of my favourite things about being a server (aka “Altar Boy”) at St. Thomas’ was Communion. Yes, Communion is good. It is the meeting between God and man. We have a sublime experience, realising the sacrifice Jesus made all those years ago on a hill outside Jerusalem and how we now have direct access to God; we can have communion with the Most High, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What I find beautiful about serving on a Sunday when we celebrate the Eucharist (aka the Communion service) is just seeing the believers come forward. I find this to be one of the most wonderful things to witness.
At Anglican churches, we have the Lord’s Table or Holy Table (by some, the altar). Not all Protestants do, but we do. So, as the believers come forth to receive this holy, sublime act of Communion with God, they are approaching the table of the Lord, the table of God. Although it is not officially an “altar” per se, the Holy Table has altar-like attributes. For when we go to the Holy Table and receive Communion, it is as though we are making our own sacrifice to God. We are sacrificing “ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto”* Him. And behind the Holy Table we have a cross. Sometimes it is rough-hewn from wood, others it is polished and shining brass (looks like gold). At St. Thomas’, it looks golden to me. And there are the believers approaching the Cross–the Cross where Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us; where He died for us; where He washed us clean from all of our sins; where Jesus redeemed us and gave us the opportunity to get into Heaven and live for eternity with Almighty God.
I like to watch people as they come forward for Communion. They kneel on a narrow burgundy cushion that runs the length of the apse (where the Holy Table is) in front of the polished brass railing. It makes me smile. Here is the Body. This is the community of believers–the God followers. There is the little boy with his stuffed rabbit held close to his chest, the old man who can’t kneel because of bad knees, the young mother dealing with two (or maybe five) squirming children and a husband, the middle-aged schoolteacher in his suit, the teenager in his jeans with the crotch hanging at the knees, the new Christian with a perma-grin on his face as he comes forward in his act of devotion to Jesus, the choir director in her gown, the Sunday school teacher who was teaching and couldn’t make it for Communion last week, the clump of young guys who venture down from the balcony. All of them, this wide and varied mass of people from the youngest to the oldest, from the poorest to the richest, from the uneducated to the educated, from those new in Christ to the long-standing believer, kneel on that burgundy cushion. Some of them look up and me and smile. Some are singing the songs being played on the piano. Some have heads bowed in prayer. Others look up to that cross behind the altar or higher, to a stained-glass window of a dove or a lamb. And along comes my dad in his white robe. Each, except the very young or unbaptised, receives the bread from him with the words, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” Along comes a Eucharistic Assistant with a silver chalice. They sip from the cup, hearing, “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” My father places his hand on the heads of the very young or unbaptised and prays a blessing for them. It is a beautiful, sublime thing to watch. And many, before returning to their seats, bow to that golden cross in St. Thomas’–that cross in place of the True Cross.
I think watching the people come forward for Communion almost made me cry once. It was so beautiful to watch the believers approach with confidence. At this moment, there is no condemnation, no fear, no separation from the Almighty. There is only the reminder of holiness, of love, of sanctification, of reconciliation, of justification. And with that comes the promise of Eternity. As well, I see the believers united in a single act of devotion the God who made them and loves them more than anything else in the world. That little boy clutching his bunny is the same as the old man who can’t kneel anymore–they are brothers. They have come forward to the Cross to have Communion with Jesus, to be filled with the Spirit. And whether they acknowledge it or not, they are having communion with each other. And if two of those guys from the balcony have a minor disagreement but are still in charity with each other, it doesn’t matter. They are approaching something much bigger than a disagreement over, say, a movie or a girl. They are going forward together to receive Communion with the Almighty. Gone is any disagreement. They are in the presence of holiness. They are going to meet with Jesus.
So if you’re ever in Thunder Bay and stop by St. Thomas’ some Sunday while I’m serving, don’t be surprised if you see me smile like a fool. And don’t be surprised if I let loose that one tear that was just dying to get out.
*Book of Common Prayer