In January, I was on a strict, medically-mandated diet. I’m stubborn, so I’m good at sticking to the rules, especially when I have a good reason, but I don’t like being told what to do, or what to eat.
It took me a few days to realize that my diet wouldn’t allow me to take communion. Even a sip of the wine and a smidgen of bread would undo the good that the diet was working in me. That felt a little ironic.
My first Sunday on the diet, I asked a pew-mate what to do if I wasn’t taking communion. He told me to go forward, then cross my arms across my chest to request a blessing. That seemed like a better idea than waiting in my seat until everyone had eaten, drank and been satisfied.
I went forward when it was my turn, but my pastor reached for the bread, not noticing my crossed arms (or perhaps thinking that I was cold). “Can you just bless me today?” I whispered.
She put a hand on my head and spoke a blessing over me. I returned to my seat, satisfied.
After church, she asked me what was wrong and I filled her in on my month-long sentence.
Each week, I went forward, growing tired of the unfamiliar ritual. I still felt a part of the eucharistic process, but as a non-participant. It was like being the one guest who was fasting at a dinner party, hearing glasses toast around me as I stared at an empty plate.
In many faith traditions, communion is something you earn. There is a class you need to go through, a ceremony you enact. You take communion when the church, your parents, or some other authority figure, says you’re ready. At Salem, there is no qualifying. The little ones are not barred from the table, neither are those who are doubting, or seeking. All are welcome at this table. The only barrier to your taking communion is you.
We have a few members who observe gluten-free diets. Like me on this diet, one small bit of the body of Christ would be enough to bring suffering and pain, rather than healing. For years, many of them hung back, perhaps receiving a blessing, possibly sitting in their seats, hungry. Now, we offer gluten-free crackers, another form of Jesus (also found in pita, rye, and Hawaiian rolls, among others).
Although it was hard for me to go a month without fully participating in communion, I can’t imagine how it must be to spend a life feeling left out of something so central, so meaningful.
I went back to the doctor, and heard the news I’d been hoping for: I could slowly transition from my diet.
Different people supply our bread at Salem, each week. This time, friends of mine had baked a beautiful loaf and brought it to share. I went forward, arms outstretched, not crossed in front of me. The bread was light and airy, but still substantial. The wine warmed my throat on the way down. I ate. I drank. I was satisfied at last.