We sat around the table in shorts and t-shirts--the kind of clothes you wear to worship at a conference in July in Kansas. We were familiar to each other but not intimate; together for the moment and planning to leave soon for our own homes, our own churches--where we could sit in pews or chairs facing forward rather than around these circular tables, turning awkwardly to see the front.
It was time for communion, though, which allowed us to turn our chairs back towards the table and look at each other. I've noticed that we like to have communion at big conference gatherings. It seems more a statement of desperate hope than a portrayal of actual unity. Still, if Jesus instituted the meal on the most stressful night of his life with his betrayer there grabbing at the bread, I suppose we are allowed to eat the meal under less than ideal circumstances, passing the bread and cup to people we are, frankly, not quite sure about.
So the instructions were given: "Send someone forward to get the bread and the cup for your table."
Maybe because I'm a pastor. Maybe because I'm a mom. Maybe because I just tend to be the bossiest person in a group, all eyes around the table looked at me. I said, "Sarah," and tipped my head toward the front of the room. (See, told you I was bossy.)
I surprised myself with the urgency I felt. With how much I wanted her to be the one to receive the elements from the Conference leaders at the front of the room, to offer those elements to all of us around the table.
Sarah is a young woman I know--who I wish I knew better. She is funny and bright, articulate and faithful and passionate. From all I have heard and seen, she is called to be a pastor. But my denomination doesn't see it that way because Sarah lives with her partner Jamie. (That would be a girl Jamie, not a boy Jamie. Which, apparently, is the problem.)
On this evening, though, in our shorts and T-shirts, the backs of our sweaty thighs sticking and pinching on the metal chairs, there were no qualifiers given regarding who could serve the elements. The Conference minister didn't say, "Send up a pastor," or "Send up a straight person." He just asked for someone to come. And Sarah went. She got the bread and the cup and brought them back to our table. She said, "take and eat . . . take and drink" and she offered a bit of Jesus to us all.
Yes, I cried. It was kind of pathetic and I tried to be subtle about it, furtively wiping snot and tears with a secret Kleenex wadded up in my hand. I felt a little bad to be passing my snot and tear germs along with the body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But it couldn't be helped.
And I suppose it's not really inappropriate for the holy meal to be laced with tears. Tear of frustration for a church that is keeping people out rather than welcoming them in. Tears of anger for injustices occurring in the name of God. Tears of hope for a more faithful future.
I think most of my tears that night were tears of joy, because right there, at that table, I saw a glimpse of God's kingdom: the holy meal offered to all and received by all--because we are all hungry and because there is always enough.
After the bread made its way around the table, there was a little bit left. Sarah turned to me, with just a hint of a smirk, and asked if I wanted seconds. "No thanks," I said. Because I have good manners. Because you're not supposed to get seconds on Jesus.
But as soon as Sarah turned to take the leftover Jesus back up to the front of the room, I regretted my response. My empty hands longed for the spongey lump; my tongue roamed aimlessly in my empty mouth; my stomach whispered a low grumble. Who am I to turn down an extra helping of the Holy? To reject that last little bit of the body/bread broken and waiting on an open palm?
I wish I had taken the seconds Sarah offered, because, more than anything else, my tears that night were a testament to the fact that we all need all the Jesus we can get.