So all has been going super awesome here, but things have been quite busy and, once again, I’m later than I’d like to be on my blogging. But tonight, something caught my attention and I had to write about it to think about and to chew on it some more. I’ve been thinking a lot about Holy Communion for the past couple months. Before I left, we heard the Gospel of John’s readings on bread, so I think that got me thinking. And I preached a couple of those weeks, so that also made me really ponder these texts about Jesus, bread, wine, and Communion.
But I’ve continued thinking about Communion since I’ve been here. During the past (almost!) two months, I have been absolutely blessed to participate in many different types of services. Thus far, I’ve been to:
- two Lutheran services
- two Catholic services (one more of an open meditation/prayer evening with music)
- morning and evening devotions here at the Collegium Oecumenicum
- a joint Thanksgiving service (Germans celebrate this holiday on the first Sunday of October – this year, on the 7th) between the Collegium and the Heilpädagogisches Centrum Augustinum (HPCA) with whom we share space (similar to a L’Arche community)
- one ecumenical semester opening service at the Collegium
- two ecumenical services in the style of the Chicago Folk Service at the Collegium
These have been truly rich experiences because they have given me a chance to see different styles and forms of worship, something that is harder to do when one is serving at one place. However, I have missed Holy Communion.
In Germany, Communion is not practiced as regularly as it is in Lutheran churches back home. Here, it often seems to take place once a month or so, and when you’re used to receiving Communion once a week or more (between seminary, internship, home visits, etc.), you notice not having it. And at Catholic services, I do not receive Communion since it goes against their teachings about receiving the sacrament. The Communion services here at the Collegium, done in the Chicago Folk Service style, have been the only two times I have received that little bit of bread and that sip of wine that have become so important to me.
Even this morning, I was already looking forward to tonight’s service because I knew we would not only sing, pray, and hear God’s word, but that we would also celebrate the Eucharist. And then, during the service, the most beautiful thing happened. The Words of Institution had been said (“In the night in which he was betrayed…”) and we formed a half-circle in the tiny chapel. Then, the pastor gave the bread to the organist and each person passed it on. I was so excited because at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC those who help lead worship stand in a circle and give each other bread and wine every Sunday. It’s such a wonderful reminder to me of how we give and receive, of how we need each other, and how we are to live in the body of Christ with one another.
So the pastor gave the wafer to the organist and spoke, naturally, in German: “Nimm hin und iss. Christi Leib, für dich gegeben” (“Take and eat. Body of Christ, given for you.”). Well, to a non-native German speaker, to speak these foreign words to others could have been a daunting task. I know sometimes people get nervous speaking these words in English because they’re such important words. They are words of promise. They are words of God’s action in our lives. And no one wants to mess up speaking God’s promises or acts to another person!
But here’s where the beauty occurred. The bread reached a man from Brazil and instead of speaking these words in German, he closed his eyes and spoke them in Portuguese. He spoke these words in the language that was close to his heart and said them the best way he knew how – authentically in his mother tongue. As we went around the circle, others spoke in English and it was interesting to hear all of the slight variations of these words. But even with the variations, you could tell that the words people chose and used were the words that meant something to them. The same happened with the chalice: “Nimm hin und trink. Christi Blut, für dich vergossen.” “Take and drink. Blood of Christ, poured out/shed for you.” It was wonderful to hear these words that mean so much to me in different languages and voices. The variety brought such a richness to the experience and made me think about the feast to come. It made me think about that feast, that colorful heavenly banquet, where people will be gathered from every corner of the world, from all different backgrounds and times, all speaking one language: praise.
When we finished with Communion, we sang a song that brought the whole experience together for me: “Strahle brechen viele [aus einem Licht]” (“Rays break many [out of one light]”). The last verse seemed particularly apt:
Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib.
Wir sind Glieder Christi.
Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib
und wir sind eins durch ihn. (Lyrics found here)
In English: “Members, there are many, but only one body. We are members of Christ. Members, there are many, but only one body, and we are one though him.” And the cool, and really nerdy, thing is that in German, the word for body (Leib) and the word for a loaf of bread (Laib) sound exactly the same when spoken aloud. Body and bread, together in one sound. People joined together through bread in the body of Christ through the one language of praise.
© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.