Jennifer Phillips, an Episcopal priest, contemplates the reasons that all manner of people – from a curious Jewish woman to an uncertain immigrant family – have slipped into her New Mexico parish to participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Why she never turns them away:
All sorts and conditions of people are drawn to the rail for all sorts of reasons conscious and unconscious, in a great variety of states of preparedness and unpreparedness. There’s always lots of teaching going on to help form people in our sacramental life, but the plain truth is that the power of God in the liturgy touches, moves, transforms, and attracts people right then, and at the rail doesn’t seem a good place to question beyond “do you desire to receive the Body of Christ?” At the heavenly throne I’d much rather be explaining why I fed some people inappropriately than why I failed to feed some who hungered and thirsted for God and put their hands out; and I’d rather give an extra blessing with a touch to someone who is drawn forward than explain they should be satisfied with a general blessing at the end. Like grain, in full measure, poured out, spilling over into one’s lap, this love and graciousness of God in the sacrament of the altar.
What happened once I started distributing communion was the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity:
You can’t be a Christian by yourself….Sooner or later, if I kept participating in communion, I’d have to swallow the fact of my connection with all other people, without exception….I wasn’t getting [communion] because I was special. I certainly didn’t get to pick who else was good enough, holy enough, deserving enough, to receive it. It wasn’t a private meal. The bread on that Table had to be shared with everyone in order for me to really taste it….I was going to get communion, whether I wanted it or not, with people I didn’t necessarily like. People I didn’t choose. People such as my parents or the strangers who fed me: the people God chose for me.
(Painting: Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret’s The Last Supper, 1896, via Wikimedia Commons)