Monday, April 5, 2010

Excommunion

Though I usually make at least two or three sessions of General Conference, if not all four general sessions, I did not make it to any conference sessions this past weekend. We had our foster son's mom visiting from last Wednesday through yesterday afternoon, and so I was committed to being a good host and spending time with family. And being the only Latter-day Saint in my family means that family time is usually time away from Church.

It being Easter, both Glen and Göran were united in wanting to take Glen's mom to church on Sunday, so Sunday morning the entire family put on our Easter best and headed off to worship at Lyndale United Church of Christ.

It had literally been a year since we'd attended church at Lyndale UCC. I've been attending church at my LDS ward, and Göran and Glen have simply not been going to church at all. Perhaps this is partially my fault. They refuse to go to the LDS Church (except on very special occasions when I make a point of asking them very, very nicely, and they are in a generous mood). Perhaps if I provided more leadership in going to church as a family at some church where they felt more welcome, they wouldn't have lapsed into their current, heathen level of church activity.

Be that as it may, when we showed up at Lyndale UCC for the first time in an entire year, we were treated like the proverbial returning prodigals. One after another, all our old friends at the church rushed us, giving us long, warm hugs and teary kisses and enthusiastic greetings of "Happy Easter!" and "Where have you been?" and "We've missed you SOOO much!" Rarely have I ever felt so welcome in a place, and it was simultaneously embarrassing me, and making me wonder if once yearly attendance is the way to go.

During the communion portion of the service, it also occurred to me that it had been a year since I had partaken of any sort of sacrament. The pastor made his usual announcement before communion, "We invite all to partake, because here at Lyndale we believe that Christ sets the table, and Christ invites all." For a second I debated whether I would partake. In my head I was carrying on a mental debate about whether my personal theology and/or lack of participation in the UCC permits me any more to partake of a communion other than the LDS sacrament -- which I'm barred from taking because of my excommunicated status. But something larger than myself and my intellectual quibbles drew me to my feet and sent me down toward the front of the congregation where the pastor and a lay leader were holding bread and a chalice of grape juice.

Pastor Don tore off a piece of bread for me, and handed it to me with the words, "The body of Christ, given for you." I dipped the bread into the chalice, turning part of it red with the grape juice and put it in my mouth and began to eat. At that point, my eyes were clouding with tears.

I chewed and swallowed the communion, and made my way back to my seat, next to my friend of over twenty years, Kayla. She put her arm around me, and at that point I just began to weep. I hugged my friend and buried my face in her shoulder and just began to sob, my whole frame shaking. She was not the least bit uncomfortable with my tears, but simply accepted them as a gift. By this time, Göran had finished taking communion too and sat down beside me. He saw me weeping and put his arm around me. I put my hand in his, and continued to weep silently, Göran and my dear friend on either side of me comforting me. I felt deeply comforted, but at the same time disconsolate over what to me seemed so emblematic of the brokenness of the world I inhabit. Göran was getting a bit teary himself.

Don preached the sermon in his usual peripatetic way, wandering about the front of the sanctuary both literally and figuratively. He spoke about the resurrection of Jesus in terms that could easily be assimilated to a view of the resurrection as some kind of grand metaphor or symbol, not necessarily a literal Jesus literally back from the dead eating literal fish with his disciples on the shore of Galilee. Though Don spoke in terms that didn't exclude that understanding of the resurrection either.

As I listened to his sermon I was vividly aware of my own experience of the resurrected Christ. And I was thinking of the texts I'd read recently in the Gospel of Matthew describing in very general terms Christ's appearance to his disciples on the mount in Galilee, his words to them so very similar to what the living Christ had shown me without words: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." And I remembered Matthew's cryptic turn of phrase: "And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted." Seeing is not necessarily believing, though it would be easier to believe that my whole life is an illusion than to believe that the Christ I saw was not alive and real. And I wanted to raise my hand and ask Don to let me share a word of good news with the saints gathered here on Easter morning, liturgically referring to themselves as "an Easter people." I wanted to get up and say, "Easter is real! He's actually alive. It really happened. I know, because I've seen him."

I didn't. I observed the decorum expected in mainline Protestant worship. And yet, perhaps I shouldn't have. Perhaps decorum is blasphemous in the face of such truths, and in a world as broken as the one we all inhabit, a brokenness I experience as not being entirely at home anywhere any more. I find rest and comfort and my spiritual home in God, on my knees. When the contradictions in my life become most outwardly overwhelming, that is when God often seems nearest to me, when I receive the most poignant reassurances that in his eternal kingdom there's a place for me that makes sense, even if there's no place down here.

7 comments:

Bravone said...

I'm glad you were able to take the sacrament. I too feel closest to my Father on my knees.

Beck said...

What a sweet and touching post! And yet there is a real pain underneath it all. I wish I were there to witness the tears and hugs, and participate in the tenderness of that special moment with you.

J G-W said...

Thanks, Bravone.

Thanks, Beck. I wish you were too.

Yesterday was a tough day for me, though good too. The presence of old friends was good, even though my relationship with that worshiping community has grown complicated.

I think God is gradually teaching me how to see through the superficial stuff and ground myself solely on him.

Anonymous said...

I am hoping that, much like the tv gives you ten pounds, this blog somehow make you seem ten pounds more spiritual that you are. This would make me feel better to not have to compare myself to you. I think you are a giant and a great man, and I dont even know you. Love you - Cal Thomp

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of decorum being blasphemous. And I love you. I'm glad Kayla was there.

Betty

J G-W said...

Thanks, Betty. I'm glad Kayla was there too.

In typical Kayla fashion, she sent me a card afterwards, with a picture of Robin Hood facing Little John and his trusty staff on the foot bridge. She said, "I don't know what bridges, over which raging rivers you've been trying to cross..." It made me weep all over again. God bless her.

Konrad said...

I am glad that you were able to partake in the scarament at this church. I presonally believe that barring someone from taking the sacrament is ridiculous. How can another judge my mind and heart and deem me worthy enough or not to take a symbolic piece of bread? It is something that everyone should be able to participate in. But I digress.

What I meant to say is that I'm glad you were able to go an experience this and feel Gods love, and the love of your friends. I agree with a post above me though, it seems to be underlied with a sense of sadness. And understandably so, with the excommunication and everything that has happened.

Also, you are in a Twin Cities LDS ward? Maybe you knew my family, the Juenglings. Fritz and Holly were my parents names. Its a long shot but its a small world! Lol