Recent events have many of us thinking, pondering, meditating on the state of relations among the diverse individuals who make up our nation. This evening, I’ll be attending a meeting at my Atlanta church, Renovation, to discuss just that. Praying toward that end, I’ve reflected on my early days at Renovation, back in January 2011. I wrote the following after one of my first times there.
Continuing our orchestral performance, we haven’t heard yet from the Communion section. Yesterday’s communion at Renovation Church brought me to my knees, but not at a rail.
The pastor of this unusual church is a Louisiana-bred (read African, Cajun, French, Cherokee) former pro football player and trained lawyer who went to seminary and moved to Atlanta without a job because God told him to plant a church here.
My kind of guy. Eclectic. Not to mention passionate.
Communion there is more in the line of the liturgical churches where the communicants go to receive the sacraments, rather than passing them to one another in the pews. (Or opening up a pre-packaged wafer and grape juice from a bucket. Gag.) At Renovation, the pastors (or celebrants or I don’t know what they call them here yet) stand around the perimeter of the room, each holding a tray with a cup and a loaf. We tear the bread ourselves (very visceral, very meaningful) and dip it into the cup and then partake. It grabbed my heart the first time. His body broken for me (by me), His blood shed for the remission of my sin (and I stain the body with His blood). Almost a swoon, but not quite.
Yesterday we sat on the second row, so instead of going to an assistant on the side, we were to go forward to receive communion from Leonce, the pastor mentioned above. As he began the celebration, I knew something special was coming. I could not take my eyes away, first from his face, then from his hands. Huge, powerful, beautiful, smooth, black hands, dwarfing the loaf he held. I wondered about the color of Jesus’ strong hands, holding the loaf that night in the upper room, preparing to allow Himself to be broken. I wondered if His hands were large or small, rough or smooth. I knew they were beautiful.
And the next section of the orchestra joined in. I read last summer, for the first time, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The character of Tom so embodied the love of Christ, so inspired me anew to faithful following. The story in all its pain and ugliness and darkness still had light throughout because of Tom’s unwavering faith in Christ Who ultimately must triumph. And the music of that story, and of that terrible period of our nation’s history, joined the song of communion.
So suddenly Leonce was not just a man, any more than I am just a woman. We were both standing in the stream of history, of His story (as the Christian curriculum providers like to say), and we were both fully aware of all that has gone before and of where God wants to take us. This is a church founded specifically for the purpose of reconciliation, of renewal and renovation in the relations between and among all races in the city. We lost power during the last service and found out yesterday that it was because a man had stolen a car in an adjoining county, and running from police he had run into a phone pole and knocked out power for a several-block area. “Welcome to church in the city,” Leonce said with a smile. “This is why we’re here.”
I braced myself to walk down the steps to the Table, grateful for a rail to hold along the way. I concentrated on not letting my tears fall before the Meal. I determined to look in Leonce’s face, into his eyes, after receiving the sacraments. And so I did.
I made it back to my seat as my vision blurred, and I fell to my knees in front of the folding chair, letting the tears flow freely as I thanked the Almighty Who preserved a people who were beaten and torn and degraded and debased, and in His mercy also preserved those who brought down the whips and forged the chains that kept them there. It meant the world to me, as I told Leonce at lunch, to be able to bow and receive communion from this brother, this man whose history is so very different from mine, who is now willing to give what was withheld from his people for so long, even at the cost of receiving more of the same treatment.
Humility. Meekness. Power under control. In Christ’s name and for His sake. Amen.
This post is included in my forthcoming book, From Fortress to Freedom, due out December 2014.