This morning, in many ways, I had my first Communion. Well, let me clarify: I had my first Communion that I felt I could truly believe in - with full heart, mind, intellect, emotion, lived reality, and faith.
Growing up as a Christian, I have been through all of the key sacraments and milestones. Communion did, however, take two tries because as a Protestant in Catholic School, I was denied my first Communion when all of my peers prepared for and received theirs. I sat in the back pew and waited while they presumably opened their doors to heaven. I crossed that milestone as a Methodist some years later with markedly less fanfare.
I never really resented my presumed lack of salvation in the Catholic Church - presumed damnation depending on how you chose to look at it. I just knew something didn’t make sense in my mind that as an 8 year old child I was denied this central symbol of the Christian Church while my peers partook. And, even as a child, I understood what its denial meant according to the faith of the people around me.
Not for that reason only, but for the life I lived and the family I was raised in, faith usually didn’t cut it for my connection with a higher power. Action was what mattered. People - all people - are what mattered. Living the right life was what I could control and living the wrong one could never be overcome by quoting scripture or proselytizing my faith.
This morning, I attended Church where a Church barely stood. I attended East End United Methodist’s service outside, in the grass, on a beautiful morning, with the tornado-torn bones of the old Church and the exposed rafters of its roof looming over us. I attended Church with several hundred neighbors, some of whom were members of the Church, many of whom just needed to gather after the tornado to be part of a community, to connect and find comfort.
I still don’t connect much with scripture. I love the music and I do like a good and thought-provoking sermon. Today, more than anything, I loved being among people who all in our own ways are struggling with the tragedy of the week - whether our own tragedy or that of our neighbor or the tragedy of the loss of a Church.
As the service wrapped up, the minister announced that in lieu of the sacrament of Communion, they would be passing out pieces of the broken glass from their shattered stained glass window - which until Tuesday told the story in light and glass and color of Christian Communion. The shattered shards they passed out even mirrored that of the broken Eucharist in my memory. This simple, beautiful, creative act amid destruction took my recent reflections on the Art of Church to a whole new level. In fact, this loving act, this sharing, this humble gesture, told the story of Christianity better than the window in its wholeness ever could have.
It also didn’t require faith to believe. It was a symbol of the present. It was a symbol of the basic human brokenness we are all experiencing. It was a remnant of human creativity and storytelling and inspiration. It was the sharing of brokenness as a means of bringing us together.
This is Church to me. This was a sacrament that I understand, and that I can believe in. I didn’t need Christian faith to find its transcendence. I have people. I have love. I have art. I have community. And, I have faith in these things.