In my Lutheran tradition, when it is time for Holy Communion, the communicants are invited to come to the altar rail and kneel or stand to receive the bread and wine. I guess the meaning of participating in that meal is as diverse as the people who come and gather at the table.
My eighteen year old son, Matt, has Down syndrome. He has been taking communion for at least a dozen years. From the very first time he took communion he just seemed to know what he was supposed to do, and for several years now he has no trouble stepping up to the altar (sometimes before the ushers have given him the “now-you-may-go” sign), kneeling, and extending his hand to receive the bread. However, it is rare that Matt does not offer some commentary as he receives communion.
Before I was ordained, and was serving as a Vicar, I was assisting at the communion table, distributing the wine from the chalice, following the presiding minister, who was distributing the bread. When the presiding minister got to the person just before Matt, he ran out of bread, and so he turned to move toward the altar to retrieve more bread. There Matt knelt, hand extended, expecting the Bread of Life to be placed there lovingly with the words: “The Body of Christ…given for you.” As he watched the pastor walk past him without even acknowledging that he was kneeling there, Matt exclaimed loud enough to be sure the pastor heard him: “Hey! I think you forgot something!”
Since I have been presiding at communion I have always wondered what Matt was going to say. Sometimes it is simply “thanks,” Sometimes it is: “Thanks Dad….see you at lunch.” Sometimes he mumbles a little bit and is honestly hard enough to understand that I just smile at him and move on to the next person.
On a recent Sunday, as soon as I handed him the bread and said: “The Body of Christ given for you,” he replied so clearly that I heard him – and I am sure everyone else did too: “Why do you keep saying that?” I smiled at him and moved on to the next person. But as I did that, I couldn’t help but realize he had been paying attention. He always does. He realized I was saying the same thing to everybody. Or maybe he has always noticed that – and today he was going to ask me “why?” The assisting minister was following about three people behind me, and when the small cup of wine was given to Matt, with the words: “the blood of Christ shed for you,” I heard him ask again: “Why do you keep saying that?”
All of a sudden, I wasn’t sure if he was asking me that because he wanted to know, or if he was asking me that to test me? I could almost sense him asking us: “Do you know why you are saying that over and over: ‘The body of Christ given for you? The blood of Christ shed for you?’”
I decided to learn from him in that moment, and that is why, before I pronounced the table blessing, after everyone in the congregation finished taking Communion, I told everyone present that I had heard him ask that question of me and the communion assistant, and here was my answer…and I thought that it was a question everyone should ask, and so everyone should hear the answer: “Matt, I say that to everybody because none of us can hear the story enough times about how much and how deeply God loves us: “The body of Christ given for you…the blood of Christ shed for you.”
It is not just that Jesus’ body was given, or his blood shed. These things were done for you.
Thank you Matt for reminding me the importance and impact of what we say and what we hear when we receive this holy gift from God.