It was rainy this past Saturday, so I decided to “get Mass out of the way” on Saturday afternoon. That way, if it was nice out on Sunday morning, I could take a walk, go for a bike ride, or just admire the sunshine from the comfort of my bed before going back to sleep. By the time I got to church, the parking lot and surrounding streets were packed. Walking three blocks in the rain gave me time to wonder, “What exactly is going on at church today?”
Entering the building, I became aware of my damp socks at the same time as I realized the answer to my question. The little girls in white dresses and the little boys in suits and ties were a dead giveaway: First Communion. My first reaction was annoyance; church would now likely take longer than the sixty- minutes-start-to-finish style our priest normally employed. And did I mention my feet were wet? I trudged to my seat, my feet making squishing sounds as I went. I certainly begrudged these little squirts all of their excitement.
At some point during the second reading, my mind began to wander, back to my own first communion, images from which still stand out with vivid color in my memory. Of course, I had been excited to wear what seemed to my second grade mind to be the fanciest dress ever made, with its lace smock and ribbon belt, and an even fancier headband, complete with fresh flowers that I had helped my mom pick out at Bachmann’s flower store. But I also remember the absolute seriousness with which I approached that first chance to take the body and blood of Christ. In my impossibly fancy dress, I felt impossibly grown-up as I chewed the crisp wafer and then ever so carefully lifted the gold chalice to my mouth. After church, I smiled my gap-toothed smile as the real grownups in our community came up to pat me on the back and say congratulations.
I came out of this daydream, aware of the smile on my lips, as the first communicants and their families (and the rest of us) stood to hear the gospel reading. Then, during his sermon, our priest said something that set me to daydreaming again. He talked about how important it was that we were all here together to celebrate Eucharist and to demonstrate for the young people among us that Jesus is not just an abstract idea. Jesus is in the bread and wine and also in us as a community. Jesus is a real presence.
From first grade until I moved to Atlanta in my early twenties, Sunday after Sunday I took the body and blood of Christ with the same faith community, and we, in turn, became the body of Christ for and with each other. It was that community in which I celebrated my confirmation and also my wedding. It was in that community that I spent an entire Christmas mass in tears, because the combination of the beauty of the service and my sorrow over some personal challenges was too much for me to contain. This was a community in which I could be vulnerable, could be fully myself, and could trust that people would celebrate and mourn with me. As we took the body and blood of Christ each week, I could see the face of Christ in the people in that community and also learned to see Christ more fully in myself. In that community, I felt Christ’s real presence.
This is what Holy Communion is all about: people coming together to share in the breaking of the bread and thus being empowered to be the holy body of Christ in the world. When I thought about it that way, it was hard to hold on to my annoyance that mass would take ten minutes longer than it normally did (even if my feet were still damp).
Do you remember your first communion? What stands out to you in your memory of this occasion?
How do you think of Holy Communion now? How would you explain to someone who was not Christian why is it important that we come together as a community to break bread together Sunday after Sunday?