By Rev. Lydia Muñoz
I, have a growing passion for all things Eucharist ( The Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Table, however you call it in your community of faith). I am a member of the Order of St. Luke’s and serve as sub-prior for the PA/NJ Latino Chapter of the Order. Preparing Table Prayers has become food for my soul and nourishment to my heart. But nothing could prepare me for the incredible joy that I would receive at our last café at PlumbLine Fellowship.
This story really started about two months ago, when Paul walked in one night to get food from our Family Resource Center. Paul is a very quiet and shy man, who has been a hard worker all his life as a handyman. But in this rough economy, he is grateful to have a place to tide him over until his next paycheck.
That night, Paul began to share with one of our volunteers, Marianne, about how he has lived across the street from the church and never realized that there was a worshiping community here. At any rate, between the small talk it so happens that Marianne knew Paul’s family and realized that they had practically grown up together. A new relationship had been established and Paul continued to visit our ministry and continued to seek out conversation about faith, the Church and God. Little by little Paul began to feel comfortable about being around church and church folk.
After several warm but not annoying invitations, he finally decided that he and his aunt would start coming to Wednesday night faith discussion groups. At our faith groups, we sit around with food, coffee and/or tea and talk about faith, the teachings of Christ and how we can become better followers of Jesus. It is geared for the un-churched and the seeker, so although it has a lesson plan, it is open to any question. Paul has always been very honest, and shared with us, “ I just want to have an experience of church and see if I like it.” For me it was more than a church experience that I was praying for, I was praying for Paul to experience the incarnate presence of Jesus in the midst of his people.
Loving Paul is not a hard thing to do, because Paul is a very giving person, and he is honest about his mistrust of “organized religion.” You just can’t help but want to shower him with care because you can tell that he has been injured in the past and turned off by the church and had been carrying with him a bag full of guilt and shame that had been imposed upon him from a very early age. However, in the midst of his doubts and searching, his genuine concern for others shined through and at the mention of needing help for another individual who had begun to frequent the ministry, Paul jumped at the chance of sharing this new found compassion as a way of “paying it forward.” Little did Paul know that these were God’s way of surrounding him with grace; unmerited, undeserved and most of the time unnoticed, grace.
The breakthrough moment came this week at our Café worship. We generally have once a month a café style worship, complete with a full meal, music and always the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. For this Café our theme for our time of reflection was Dreams. I shared with the congregation how God spoke before in dreams and how God was still speaking to us even though many times the circumstances of our life wants us to put aside the God dream in us. After every reflection, the community has its own reflection time, so they gather in groups of 3 or 4 and discuss a particular question that I might prepare for them. I was ecstatic to see my friend Paul and his aunt talking and having a good time.
When the moment for the Eucharist celebration came, I shared a simple table prayer that emphasized that God’s biggest dream for the world was that we would all be in friendship with God and that God would be able to use us to teach others how to dream as well. I then invited people to come and take of the Bread and Cup. I did not notice Paul get up until he was standing in line in front of me ready to receive Communion, so you can imagine my surprise! Paul approached the Bread and Cup with tears in his eyes and shaky hands, I hugged Paul and I said, “Welcome home, we have been waiting for you.” He began to sob in front of me and the same volunteer who had gently befriended him at the center that one night almost 2 months ago, came over and put her arm around him too. Soon there was another person, and another until we were all one big….well, one big loaf of people loving each other. We closed our time together by making a big circle to receive the benediction and blew the light candle out into the world. Paul was beaming! He had become the light.
Some people frown upon the idea of celebrating Holy Communion during Christmas, but I say, this is what we celebrate every time we celebrate Communion any other time. Every time we share the words of Christ in that great prayer, we declare the Christmas message of incarnation, God made flesh, the flesh of a newborn baby. But the real convincing argument for me is the fact that Paul realized that God was crazy about him! So much so that God went to great lengths to get Paul to understand this and so the angels sang, the shepherds worshiped and the wise men brought gifts, the church served and opened its doors, allowing people like Paul with their questions and doubts and fears to bring them all to this particular stable called PlumbLine. Just like the story about Little Virginia who finally believed that there was a Santa Claus after seeing that all her wishes came true, Paul believed through the faithful care and intentional incarnational witness of the presence of Christ in a community of faith, who walked, didn’t push or pull, but walked along side someone who is still searching, allowing God’s grace to turn doubt into belief and years of confusion and guilt into something beautiful called the gift of faith.
The next day, Paul shared with me that he was not sure what happened to him and why he was so emotionally touched by the meditation and the sharing of the Bread and Cup. He shared that the last time he had been invited to the Lord’s Table was 1960! Since then he has never felt right or that he actually believed enough to participate. Yet at the moment that I took the bread and broke it and invited everyone to the Table, Paul says, “something inside of me just woke up and wanted to participate.” The power of the Words of Jesus that we administer in Communion are real. They are the two- edged sword, ready to cut through years of confusion, mistrust and pain that people feel who have been jaded by organized religion. We have to give people the reason to believe that they can re-think Church because we have begun to “re-present” Church!
There are Paul’s everywhere, if we truly believe enough to give our best gift – God’s Grace!
*Rev. Lydia Muñoz is pastor of PlumbLine Fellowship at Narberth UMC, 206 Price Ave., Narberth, PA 19072.