Updated: Aug 18, 2020
Have you ever been in a Christian worship service where communion was celebrated? My family and I celebrated communion a few Sundays ago at Main Street UMC in Hattiesburg, MS. As I returned to my seat, I found myself wondering what to do with the remaining breadcrumbs in my hand. Maybe you’ve been in this situation with a few breadcrumbs left on your fingers or some wine spilled in your hand after receiving communion. You may have gotten up from the kneeling rail or walked back to your seat with questions like, "Do I drop the extra breadcrumbs on the ground?” Or, “Do I wipe the spilled juice on my shirt?”
A few years ago in seminary, my mentor Dr. Robert Stamps explained that at communion, we should receive the bread and wine for ourselves and then receive another piece of dipped bread for the person we’d meet next. This thought came to my mind as I pondered how to handle the leftover crumbs, and I started to think about all the opportunities and possibilities to share the love that had been given to me that morning. My prayer began to shift to the person I'd meet next: the student, the waiter, the cashier, or the janitor.
It’s a strange concept to think of loving or caring for someone before they have the opportunity to understand or receive it- even before they know me. But as foreign as this idea may seem, it’s what we are called to do for the world around us- to take those “extra” crumbs to our neighbors, loving our neighbors as ourselves. So the question now becomes, “Do I love my neighbors as myself?” Or to put this into perspective, we could ask, “Do I love myself as Jesus loves me; and then, am I loving my neighbor in the same way?” What lofty questions we ask ourselves- what high standards in which to live up to!
On an even grander scale, we’ve heard the more general question, “What would Jesus do?” You’ve probably asked yourself this question before in certain situations: when a casual conversation turned into an argument, when you found yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, when a friendly chat turned to gossip, or when you became defensive around a certain person or group. If you’ve ever asked yourself “what would Jesus do?”- you were probably overwhelmed by the answer to it. When we ask ourselves these types of questions, we often come up short, robbing ourselves of the ability to respond. Then, shame takes hold of our outlook on God and neighbor. Shame keeps us physically and emotionally frozen from making the next right step because we don’t live up to the perfect life questions we ask. I think we get so caught up striving to be a perfect imitation of Jesus that we fail to be present with Jesus.
A few weeks ago in our weekly Facebook Live post, I talked about Matthew 11:27-30 and striving less to be like Jesus and striving more to be with Jesus. It's not that someone would see us being like Jesus but that someone would experience that we’ve been with Jesus. Constant communion with Jesus in all of life's moments is our aim, but this type of relationship takes preparation long before life gets chaotic or doesn’t go as planned. It's the cultivated relationship with Jesus over time that keeps us grounded in the present grace. It’s all about providing space for grace to happen- grace present with us in anticipation, long before life events take place that seek to throw us off course. Sitting with Jesus- spending time in God’s grace- reframes the good, the bad, and the ugly. We reexamine ourselves and our neighbors, and it’s as if our lenses are reshaped or transformed.
We find that it’s less about what Jesus would do and more about what Jesus is doing in me and how I am responding to life with grace. We didn’t plan these moments, but yet here we are. Moments that don't go the way our game plan was drawn out. Moments that call us to depend on faith and depend less on our ability to do something. Let’s begin to ask ourselves what Jesus is doing in us and in our community. Making this shift toward being with Jesus in all rhythms of life translates into constant communion and knowing that every moment of life is a gracious moment of uncertainty which calls us to be present with Jesus and neighbor.
As we begin to think of ways to provide space for grace, let’s go back to the breadcrumbs from my earlier story. Robert Webber says that the bread and wine “embrace us, gather us into Jesus’ act of self-sacrificing love, claim us as members of the body of Christ, heal our hurts, reconcile us to each other and signify all that the Gospel proclaims.”(1) Grace is meeting us in the moment we receive this beautiful sacrament- perhaps the very grace we need for the next life event and the next neighbor we’ll encounter.
I’ll conclude with another quote from Robert Webber, “When we receive that bread into our mouth, bite and chew it, we are claiming God’s work. We are saying, “You paid the price; you did the work; you achieved my salvation; I accept it.” (2) May we all seek to receive from God what is being freely and continually given; and then, may we seek to share all that has been freely and continually given to us with a world full of neighbors who need it.
1 & 2. Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation, Second Edition(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 96-97.
Questions for the week:
Am I praying for those people who I will rub shoulders with this week?
Am I seeking a space for grace to continually work in my life?
Am I using those moments in grace to prepare for what lies ahead?
Am I prepared to provide those same gracious gifts given to me to those I encounter?