Fathom Mag

Learning to Receive

I wasn’t always a blubbering mess during communion.

Published on:
December 10, 2019
Read time:
2 min.
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I wasn’t always a blubbering mess during communion.

I’m an academic and, even worse, a mathematician. I’m supposed to be cerebral and calculating, not sensitive and vulnerable. And for most of my Christian life, this has described me well. During the worship service I’ve zeroed in with laser focus on the sermon. What can I learn? How do the pieces fit together? Most everything else on Sunday morning was incidental.

But over the past few years, I’ve begun to change. Something is cracking open within me and occasionally shards of emotional light beam out.

Something is cracking open within me and occasionally shards of emotional light beam out.

I’m not sure how all this began; I don’t know the specific fracture that started the opening. But I did catch a glimpse of the crack as it deepened.

I was visiting my parents with my family for the weekend. We were late getting on the road Sunday morning, traffic delayed us further, and we showed up to church forty minutes late.

We’d missed so much of the service already, we nearly drove right by the exit. But we thought some Sunday worship was better than none, so we made the turn.

We entered the sanctuary and heard the last five minutes of the sermon. After a hymn they began preparing for communion. We had visited this church before, but not enough to know its communion schedule. But at that moment I thought, oh, maybe this is why we’re here.

The elders gathered at the front with bread and juice, and people began forming lines to receive the elements. Since we had arrived late, we were in the back, listening to the music, slowly walking forward.

I looked around and saw an older woman sitting off to one side, her walker propped against her pew. As people stepped around her toward the aisle, she stayed behind. She was hunched over, whether in pain or prayer, I do not know. She sat alone.

Just then some elders on the other side of the church stepped out into the congregation. They were carrying bread and juice with them, looking for those who needed the supper brought to them. Perhaps they were specifically looking for this woman.

These men crouched beside this older saint, offering her the body and blood of Jesus.

Take and eat. His body was broken for you. This cup is the new covenant in his blood, shed for your sins. Drink from it.

In that moment, my heart swelled with new understanding of the grace and love of God. Jesus doesn’t demand that we walk to meet him, strong and able. He goes forward, seeking the weak, the sick, the immobile. He crouches and kneels and ministers to those who cannot even look up at the preacher, who know only that they need to be here, near their savior.

In that church, the Lord’s Supper reminded me of our equal need before God.

In that church, the Lord’s Supper reminded me of our equal need before God. Pastor or straggler, strong or weak, we all come to the table with nothing in our hands.

And into those hands, into every set of needy hands, Jesus gently presses his hands—his body and his blood. We remember and participate in the celebration of his death until he comes again. 

I now long for the Lord’s Supper in ways I can’t previously remember. The tangible grace I receive at this table is as real to me as any formula or equation, so precious that it often leaves me shaky. My throat catches; I need to compose myself just to sing the end of a hymn; I teeter on the edge of tears.

Ryan Higginbottom
Ryan Higginbottom teaches mathematics at Washington & Jefferson College. He lives with his wife and two daughters in southwest Pennsylvania. You can connect with Ryan at his blog or on Twitter.

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