First Communion

I remember mine and I have told this story many times.

Julie's first communionMy mom died on March 22, 1966, just a few months before I made my first communion at Christ the King Catholic Church in Omaha, Nebraska. All the other little girls in my second grade class that fall had their moms to make sure their hair was nicely done so their communion veils would sit prettily on their heads. I had a group of nuns – Sr. Mary Christine, Sr. Mary Amy and Sr. Mary Thomas – who did that for me. They took me out that day to get my hair done and just enjoy a day of fun before the big moment at mass that night. When that moment did come, those three ladies saw the distress of a shy, introverted seven-year old, and they hustled me out of mass so I could throw up in the bathroom instead of the pew. After mass was over, they brought me back into the sanctuary, up to the communion rail, so Father Hupp could serve me the body of Christ, represented in that flat, embossed wafer. I have never forgotten that moment. And every time I have come to that part of a church service anywhere, I remember who served me: Jesus. And sometimes he comes in the form of 1965-habited nuns.

Communion is important to me because of the community we become at that meal, the experience that is shared together. I posted this on Facebook on Easter Sunday this year:

“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” Luke 24:30-31

Post-resurrection, they recognized the one who loved them and gave his life for them in the breaking of bread, the sharing of a meal. May we recognize that same love in our breaking of the bread and sharing hospitality. May we look across the table, into the eyes of others, and see what God saw when he made us: a reflection of the divine, something he called very good. And may we know his peace.

Happy Easter to all! Special prayers for God’s beloved in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

I know how important communion is in the church. I remember the look on Father Hupp’s face when he put that wafer on my tongue. I was part of something bigger than me that I would carry throughout the rest of my life.

When Jesus invites us to the table to remember him by serving others, it is a pretty important moment.

But I discovered just how important communion was to others in the church when I went to Iraq for the first time in November, 2011. I was traveling with a group of folks who are now part of the community of my life: Barbara, Marilyn, Tom M., Mark, Tom B., Elmarie and Chris. Four of these saints are pastors and even though it was important for all of us to be there, their presence was a gift beyond measure.

The Presbyterian church in Basrah had been without a pastor since 2004, when the last one fled in the midst of sectarian violence brought about by the U.S. invasion in 2003. A dear elder in the church, Zuhair Fathallah, had been leading this amazing congregation since. In their tradition, it was so important for the pastor to say the words of institution for communion, “On the night he was betrayed, Jesus took…”, and they didn’t have a pastor. There were and are very few pastors in Iraq, so they didn’t have communion in Basrah very often. Not every Sunday like in my young life in the Catholic church, not once a month like at my current reformed church, and not even once a year. They had communion when a pastor could be there, and when we showed up that November it had been over two years since they had celebrated it.

I don’t have a picture to show you, but I remember Marilyn taking a picture of the congregation. Almost to a person there were tears, and they were commemorating that event with their own cameras. I immediately thought back to Father Hupp and the joy that was on his face when he gave me that wafer. Communion is a meal with the divine among the mundane and it should be marked and remembered. And they did and it was.

One year later we returned to Basrah. They still had no pastor and Elder Zuhair was still running the church. (He also made the wine for communion!) And we had 50% more pastors in our group for a total of six: Mark, Tom, Elmarie, Rob, Larry and Marshall. And once again the cameras came out. Here is my picture from that day:

Mark Mueller, Elmarie Parker, Rob Weingartner, Elder Zuhair, Marshall Zieman, Tom Boone and Larry Richards offer communion at the Evangelical Church of Basrah, November, 2012.

Mark Mueller, Elmarie Parker, Rob Weingartner, Elder Zuhair, Marshall Zieman, Tom Boone and Larry Richards offer communion at the Evangelical Church of Basrah, November, 2012.

 “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19b

The first communion. And I remember.

One thought on “First Communion

  1. I once heard a very powerful sermon about communion that has stuck with me. I can’t give the scripture, but the gist of it was that when we take communion, God has come down, for lack of better words, to eat with us. I remember the day I heard the sermon and how when I took the bread that day and dipped it in the juice, it struck me that I was eating with God. My words cannot do justice to the powerful experience that communion is for me. I have the photo from my First Communion as well, and I recall the kneeling and the reverence in the moment. And anytime we break bread together with family and friends, it is special to me: to see the face of God in another and to share the hospitality of a meal, simple or five-course.

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