Imagine for a moment you’ve got it wrong. Wrong place, or timing, or words, or ideas. Wrong attitude or clothes or expression or tone of voice. Too much information. Or not enough. This may only be me, of course. But from time to time, three or four or all of the above apply.
This past Sunday morning, after a difficult night, I was in church with a strong sense of wrongness. As usual at the beginning of the service, we were invited to think back over the last week. I didn’t really want to think back, I wanted to just keep my head down and get through the service so I could go back to wallowing. But, given the events of the night before it seemed that God wasn’t about to let me. As it’s still holiday season in this neck of the woods, regulars were thin on the ground and I was asked to help serve communion. It’s a sacred ritual dating back to the last supper where Jesus asks the disciples to eat bread and drink wine symbolising his body and his blood, which would be given up for them in his death.
So there I was, wanting to have my own pity party at the back but being asked to come up the front and participate in a ceremony which leaves no room for that. For me, communion is the time to do serious business with God, to hand over all the stuff I like to hold close and torment myself with, and accept His help. As I and my co-server had to take the bread and the wine before everyone else, I had no time to do anything other than simply give up all that good pity I was planning to feast on afterwards. You see, if he forgives me, then there’s nothing to party with. I am forced to move on, get on with it. Get over myself.
I can tell myself it’s too easy to accept forgiveness, especially when I haven’t forgiven myself, thinking it pious, when in fact it is simply proud. The truth is I prefer to give, not to receive. It is much easier, it makes me feel good, it puts me in control. I like to be the strong one dispensing help, not the weak one needing it. When I have to admit that I am wrong I manage this otherwise uncomfortable situation by showing how abjectly miserable my mistake or foolishness has made me, and how much I can punish myself for it. (Yes of course it’s nuts). I get away with it in most situations, but not in communion. Since my childhood, it has carried the weight of the truly sacred. It is the moment in the service where I feel most vulnerable, most naked before God. Illogical, obviously, because he sees us all the time. But communion brings me face to face with Jesus, as it were, across the table, holding out the wine, saying drink this, this is my blood, given for you. Remember that I have cleared your personal slate once and for all, backwards and forwards in time.
If I really believe that my slate is cleared, once and for all, backwards and forwards in time, by God himself, it follows that all I have to do is to be and to say sorry when I mess up, and receive his forgiveness. Of course where I’ve hurt others I need to put things right with them, but essentially it comes down to sorry. That’s it. Too easy, as they say here in Australia. But is it almost too easy. I have no work to do to deserve this forgiveness, no way of earning it. Which is entirely the point. My part is not to try to deserve this mysterious wonderful gift but to receive and believe it, not just at the communion rail on a Sunday but throughout the rest of the week as well.