When I was in high school, the very first friend I made (by discovering we were both Geminis, no less; what an odd thing to bring people together) was a Christian. She went to an Assemblies of God church and participated in the usual Protestant teenager youth group shindigs. As we became better friends, I joined her for weekly Wednesday meetings where we would learn a bit more, take notes in our Bibles and socialize with other people our age. However, I think the biggest deal for the both of us was the music. We were both musically inclined, both played instruments, both enjoyed singing along to blaring music from her car when she got one and spent a good deal of time together sharing new bands we liked. There was a Christian music festival held in the state which I had gone to before and which people from her youth group also went to during the Summer. So at the end of our freshman year, we made plans to go to this week-long festival at the end of June/beginning of July.
(Long-winded introduction done? Nope, not yet.)
So there we were at this music festival, wandering down dusty roads weaving in and out of people with tattoo sleeves, dreadlocks or bright pink mohawks, while guitar tuning strained from one canvas tent and the thump of poor-quality bass pounded from a small corner stage. All of these wristband-clad teenagers and twenty-somethings had gathered for the love of Jesus and the love of music and it all struck me as quite simple, really.
When I think back on that week (and even on other weeks during other years when I attended), I of course remember finding the right camping spot or what it was like to see a few of my favorite musicians or sneezing dirt from my nose for a week after (you're welcome for that image). However, there is a specific scene which I think on more, especially recently.
On the penultimate day, I think during a year which celebrated a milestone anniversary of the event, the festival hosted Communion at Main Stage. Now, the grounds were huge, so when I say "main stage," I really mean a grand set-up, not some rinky dink platform. The stage was positioned in this deep basin by the lake. Standing within the hollow or sprawling along the edges of the bowl, people could fit in the thousands to watch more major and well-known artists perform (P.O.D. is a good example of a fairly popular band; they were there one year). Anyway, Communion happened this Friday night (which seems especially fitting from a Catholic perspective if any day is chosen to celebrate it). Volunteers were quite quick to begin handing out materials to everyone there: a small candlestick and an all-in-one Communion cup. It was similar to a yogurt cup which holds yogurt in the bottom with a small separate shelf to keep the granola dry until you want to mix them; so there was about a swallow of juice and a top compartment where a small round wafer lay. Words were printed on the top plastic (probably the usual "Do this in memory of me" line).
"This is convenient," I thought to myself, examining the packaging from all angles. While I was marveling, candlelight was spreading throughout the crowd as the sun fell below the horizon and someone stepped onto the stage to lead Communion. While I was expecting the man who began the festival or one of the musicians, this person was neither. He was some sort of minister, which makes sense for leading such an occasion, and he talked quite a bit about what we were doing.
|Go on and tell me that candlelight isn't awesome. I dare you.|
While I cannot remember much of what he said, I do remember at one point him holding up something which looked like a larger than usual pita bread and saying, "This is my body." As he lowered the jumbo-sized pita, the girls next to me nearly ate their own wafers but stopped, realizing we still hadn't been given the okay yet and one giggled, saying, "This is, like, Lutheran, or something." The others laughed and I was tempted to give them an appropriately withering look. "Can't you see that this is a big deal?" I wanted to say.
The magnitude of this Communion—there were so many people in attendance and there is something about a sea of candlelight which always just gets to me—was obvious to me, and the "celebration" (my Catholicism is showing) on stage was getting to me. I had never seen Communion happen quite in this fashion. It was as if the minister knew something which I did not. There was some sort of mystery I was not understanding.
Now, I'm not sure to which "denomination" this minister belonged. I'm certainly hoping he wasn't Catholic and sincerely doubt it, seeing as non-Catholics aren't meant to receive the Sacrament they do not believe in and because it is not a Sacrament without the proper matter (wine is required as the drink; juice is not wine. 2 + 2 = 4. Some simple facts here, guys.). So let's suppose he was Lutheran, or some other denomination which tends to regard the Sacrament as a bit more than just a "symbol" (Lutherans traditionally believed that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, but not that He completely overtakes the bread and wine; more simply: they believed the bread and wine was still bread and wine, not Jesus). Communion was not treated as mere symbol by this man, or at least it did not seem to be to me. There seemed to be something more going on, or at least "something more" was being pointed to. While others were commenting on how unusual it was, how different this Communion was, I felt as if I were waiting for something miraculous to happen.
Throughout my Communion-receiving life, I don't think I ever really thought of it as mere symbol (which I think I've said elsewhere on this blog, but I'm too lazy to find it). If I did think of it as a symbol, I thought of it as a really important, intense symbol. Whenever we did Communion at my Protestant church (only monthly, which I did find odd. If we're supposed to "do this in memory of [Jesus]," why were we only doing it once a month? We only remember His death once a month?), I would sit there in our silent moment of reflection, thinking about how sinful and poor a creature I was, thinking about how lucky I was that God died for me, trying not to take that sacrifice for granted.
Maybe every "Communion is a symbol" Protestant goes through the same thought process. Maybe everyone tries to be reverent and properly reflect on the actions being performed. Looking back on that scene, I wonder if I could hear a small voice telling me: "There is more to this." I certainly know there was more to it in another scene that same week.
I believe it was the next and last day of the week as the event was winding down that I went with a couple friends to one of the tents in the center of the grounds. The band which performed was probably a small-town band and there was a Communion service at this one too. No candles, as it was mid-day and the items distributed were far different this time. Instead of wine, even instead of juice, we had a variety of fruit-flavored sodas (including orange, which isn't even similar to grapes!); instead of a small wafer we had white sandwich bread. I'm almost laughing to myself at this point, which may appear disrespectful to some readers, but honestly. It was hard for me to grasp any sense of reverence as a musician led us with those famous words again and the sound of snaps and fizzes of soda cans filled the tent. I wasn't one to turn down a drink in the 90 degree heat, but I could not make myself finish a can. The disconnect between the Communion service the night before was as glaring in my mind as the sun reflecting off the trash bin into which I dumped the mostly-full aluminum container.
How could something which seemed so important, verging on one of the most distinct moments I'd experienced, mean just as much as half a school lunch? Carbonation is supposed to settle the stomach, but I walked away unsettled and confused. "If only someone had told me then what the Catholic Church teaches about Communion," I may catch myself thinking, but I know it is a pointless thought. No one told me then. No one told me until almost four years later. Only then could I understand those two services from a different, more solidified perspective.
I don't know if God was moving me those days to examine Communion more urgently. I don't know if my own mind sounded the alerts: "Something is right here" and "Something is wrong here." Maybe I sound too much like a legalistic, by the book, them's the rules Catholic to say that Communion should not be celebrated with grape soda and sandwich bread or to even state that no way was that as reverent as the service the night before. I don't care how comfortable it was to others: they can write their own reflection on it. Knowing that the Eucharist is such a big deal—it is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, sacrificed, lying on the altar, waiting for us in the priest's hands, given to us because we believe, because we are obedient to His words on the night He was to suffer—I cannot look at other services the same way. I cannot help but think, "You are missing something essential here." I cannot help but wish my Christian brothers and sisters to believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist because She believed Jesus Christ when He told His disciples: "This is my body." Not "This is like my body," not "I was joking, all you followers who are running away from me because you think I am encouraging zombie-like behavior. I was only being symbolic when I said 'Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you.'" Instead: "This is my body."
[Yeah, I know: this is my dozenth post on the Eucharist. Why? Because it's a big deal. Don't expect me to stop any time soon.]