My brother and grandparents were in town this past weekend to celebrate Independence Day with my parents, my sister, and me. Needless to say, the house was crowded. It was a fun weekend spent playing cards, eating food, and having good conversation. On Sunday my family all went to church together (minus my brother who went to Mass since he is Catholic).
Since I work for the church, Sunday isn’t exactly the Sabbath it should be. I go to the 8:30 service with my family, teach the fifth grade Bible class at 9:45, and hang out with the two-year-olds during the eleven o’clock service. This Sunday was particularly full since all of our elementary classes were combined into one for the holiday weekend and since the normal teacher for the pre-school kids was out for the holiday as well. I got to church at seven o’clock in order to set up for our combined elementary class, made it to service with the family at eight-thirty, quickly darted out and taught Bible class (with my counterpart), and then taught the pre-schoolers (also with my counterpart). After that was over, I quickly left around 1:00 pm, made it home, and spent the rest of the day with my family.
But, in the middle of the busiest Sunday morning I have yet had this summer, something struck me. I took Communion with my grandmother. I don’t know how they do Communion in your church, but at First Colony someone on the stage prays for the bread, then ushers pass trays, filled with nasty styrofoam cracker pellets, down the pews. Each baptized believer is invited to eat one of the pellets. Then, somebody prays for the grape juice (I guess the Church of Christ doesn’t embrace a literalist hermeneutic when it comes to communion because they don’t use wine) and trays filled with plastic shot glasses of Welch’s are passed down the pews. Proper Communion etiquette requires that two people throw back shots of grape juice at the same time while holding the tray between them (unless, of course, you don’t know the person next to you on the pew, then it is acceptable to have your shot of juice by yourself). So, as you might guess from my description, Communion at First Colony can get just a bit corny but, hey, there is the sense that we are all participating together in a single act as a body, which is more than can be said for Beltway’s “off-to-the-side, take communion when and if you feel like it” mentality which, in my estimation (which you can read about here), creates a culture of exclusion and, incidentally, reduces the incarnational implication of the sacrament to the empty “outward sign of an inward grace” that prioritizes subjective-abstract-individualistic spiritual experiences over the reality and physicality of the Body of Christ.
So, styrofoam pellets and shots of grape juice aside, my grandmother and I held the tray of juice at the same time, and drank at the same time. I took Communion with my grandmother. That is really cool for me. I used to think that I didn’t have a very good testimony. I mean, to have a good testimony you have to have moved from being homeless, addicted to crack, and murdering other people to being a devout Christian who shares the Gospel on the street with all those whom you used to be like. Or, you can be a “nominal Christian” (I hate that term) who became convicted about the sex slavery in Thailand, gone there and personally rescued 18 girls from captivity before starting your own non-profit, which you run now as you travel around speaking at conferences while rescuing more girls. Or, at the very least, you have to have grown up not knowing Jesus, had a miracle, and now you love God and the Church. None of those options are mine. I grew up going to church. In fact, both of my parents grew up going to church. Guess what? All four of my grandparents grew up in the church. In fact, I have a hymnal from the early 1900’s from which some ancestor of mine led singing in his Church of Christ. Even before Christ saved me, I knew about the Faith. I have always felt like my testimony (“I grew up in church, never did anything too bad but wasn’t living for Jesus, went to a youth rally where Jesus became real to me, embraced him, and now serve him”) just wasn’t very cool. I didn’t even have any awful sins I had been hiding, you know, something cool like a crack addiction or, at least, a drinking problem. I mean, yeah, I struggled with lust, but who hasn’t? And, well, I’ve cheated on my homework? Is that even a sin? So, my resume just never impressed me.
Then, one day, at a retreat in the mountains of New Mexico last summer before camp got started (I was on the leadership team for ACU’s Leadership Camps last summer) Bob Strader, an ACU professor and a director of Camps, had a word for me. He read to me Isaiah 51:1.
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn.
I DO have a cool testimony. My testimony was that the Faith had been part of my family for generations. God, in his grace, has given me a family with whom he has shed grace upon grace for GENERATIONS! My father and my father’s father have served in church leadership positions before. My uncles, on both sides, have done the same. My mom’s mother has modeled prayer and compassion for me. My dad’s dad has modeled generosity and giving. My uncle has modeled intellectual rigor and inquiry. My brother and sister are both in school to get ministry degrees because they are both called to serve, as their vocation, the work of the Kingdom. As a family, every Christmas, we pray, take communion, and share the joy of the Kingdom. Of the saints already in Heaven, I know that my family, back on both sides for generations, are there with God now. My mother and father were the first to teach me of God’s love, and then showed me what it looked like by loving me. And they, of course, learned it from their parents. My family wears the heritage of faith well:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
The Gospel is so integral to my family, so much a part of who we are and what we do, that we wear it like clothes. So, I took Communion with my grandmother, and it was as if God was confirming, once again, his promises to me, my family, and my future children: I will be your God and you will be my people.