Among my duties as worship coordinator for our Water's Edge contemporary service is to set up the room for worship. I make sure the mic has a fresh battery, I finalize the worship order, I fill candles with oil and replace dwindling votives, I put a loaf of Hawaiian bread on a plate and fill two chalices with juice, I print the scriptures for the day and recruit readers, I make sure we have enough people to serve communion, and I tend to other little behind-the-scenes tasks. Just before the service, I visually survey the room to make sure all the details have been taken care of and the room is ready for worship. During the service, I make the announcements (my least favorite assignment) and read scripture, usually the Gospel lesson. Otherwise, I worship and watch for things that may need to be tended to quietly from the back of the room.
Today, I did all that, but I also had promised to visit a Sunday school classroom. I hated to leave worship, but the classes only meet during our worship time. I stayed through the sermon and I'm glad I did because it was not only good it was also a good lesson/example of sermon creation. But I left during the sermon talk back time, assuming I would miss that and communion.
When I returned from the Sunday school class, I could tell our service was still going, and when I walked into the worship space, I could see that communion was still being served. I was delighted because I also hated to miss the sacrament. I waited in line, tore off a piece of bread, dipped it into the cup, said my amen in gratitude for this grace, put the elements in my mouth and was shocked by how cold the juice was. In that split second of sensation, I knew without a doubt that I had forgotten to put juice in the chalices.
And, horrified, I tried to imagine the moment in which Molly lifted the chalice and discovered there was nothing there to consecrate. As it turns out, I imagined it pretty accurately. The worst part for me, or so I thought, was that I had not been there at the back of the room to remedy my own error. But even worse was hearing from a half dozen people that the first thing Molly did when she noticed the empty chalice was call out my name. But grace is amazing and someone volunteered to go to the kitchen nearby and get the juice. And that's how it came to be ice-cold in the chalice for me to receive.
The grace continued in the fact that after worship everyone was laughing about this, laughing in a good way, enjoying both the humanity of the moment and Molly's recovery, her saving grace!
After worship, I was getting ready to go to a meeting with some youth leaders and Molly to begin planning for some Holy Week activities, when Linda Neel entered the room with an urgent look on her face. My first thought was that she must have some urgent pastoral care issue to convey, because she was looking right at me. What she told me was that people were in the chapel waiting for the 10:40 communion service and no one had showed up to lead it. It was 10:45.
I went to our altar, grabbed one of the chalices still filled with chilled juice, looked at Molly and said: I've managed to mess up a second communion service today. And hurried toward the chapel. Linda walked with me and we gathered the consecrated wafers and communion worship order from the office. We placed the elements on the chapel's altar and moved behind it, and I began the service with a confession.
I apologized to the 16 people gathered there and confessed that I was supposed to sub for Greg LaDue today, and I had forgotten. I told them that Molly had assured me that communion is all about grace and I thanked God for that grace and hoped they, too, would extend some. To a one, they all smiled.
In my haste to get to the chapel, I had not picked up by pocket book of worship, I knew I'd have to recall the communion story without benefit of the official words. And so I did. I lifted the bread and told of Jesus offering it to his disciples and to us, I lifted the chalice of chilled Welch's and told how Jesus gave thanks to God and told us of our new covenant, I asked God to pour out God's Spirit on all of us gathered and I thanked God for already pouring out God's Spirit on the consecrated elements. I told the communion story as if I knew it by heart. I told the communion story as if I knew it by heart, because I do know it by heart. And it is at the heart of my faith journey. The communion story will be forever intertwined with my own faith story and with my call story.
And I find tremendous grace in the fact that not even I, coming close twice in one day, can truly mess up communion. Communion redeems all. Communion graces all.