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AfterWords | Approaching the Table (October 22, 2023)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Jonathan Williams

When I was 9, I was living in West Chester, Ohio.

My parents belonged to a Presbyterian church that we would attend periodically. I remember being bored out of my mind. Many a tithe envelope became my canvas for drawings of spaceships or my own version of a Garbage Pail Kid (if you know, you know).

Anyway, there is a Sunday I do remember vividly.

The pastor had a loaf of bread, and he held it up in the air and said the word “eat.” Then he held up a beautiful gold chalice accompanied by the word “drink.” I got excited. I don’t remember having ever had food in the middle of a church service.

The people in pews in front of us started to file out, pew by pew, and joined a line leading to the pastor.  Eventually, it was my pew’s turn to get up and join. Everyone stood up, and I stood up. Until my mom told me to sit back down.

“Stay here. I’ll be back.”

“Why can’t I go?

“Because.”

“Because, why?”

“Sh.”

I grumbled under my breath. I wanted some bread. I wanted… whatever was in that cup. And because I didn’t get any, I was an insufferable grump for the rest of the service. And that grumpiness carried over to the children’s sermon, to Sunday school, to the car ride home, and to the house.

Dad, who couldn’t make church that day, asked, “How was the service?”

Mom responded, “Fine.”

“Can I make you two some lunch?”

And without missing a beat, I said, “Maybe for me. Mom already had her meal.”

Ooh. I got such a look from my mom.

Now, I was being a brat. I was being bratty. “Bratterific.” ’Cause I didn’t get my way…

BUT… sarcastic 9-year-old me had stumbled into an important truth I would only come to understand later.

This past Sunday, Jordan clearly and methodically broke down the elements of our Anglican service. It was super helpful. Coming from a more “nondenominational tradition” (is that an oxymoron?)—it took me a while to step back into a liturgical church setting, which I hadn’t been in since I was 15. But everything made sense. Even passing the Peace took on a deeper meaning. And I gained more meaning to the beauty I experienced in some of the liturgy.

Then Jordan spoke about the Eucharist. The Great Thanksgiving. And as he described the meaning of approaching the table….

I thought of 9-year-old me.

The past 39 years since that day in the Presbyterian church with my mom have been a rollercoaster.  Amazing days. Brutal days.  Desperate days.  Comforting days. And even before I came to faith (when I was 18), I knew I hungered for something. I hungered and thirsted for a sustaining force. For a reassurance that the trials of my life are just as much a part of this life as the victories. I wanted to know I wasn’t alone.

Approaching the table does that for me. Approaching the table lets me know I am not alone.   Approaching the table reminds me I am invited. Approaching the table reminds me I am loved.

I take the “bread of life” broken for me and given to me. I drink the only thing that can truly quench my thirst.

My-9-year-old self was right. It is a meal. For my soul. For my heart. For my mind.

And I am grateful.

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