I was invited to preach the Word and preside at communion at the Sunday morning service for a men’s retreat at Camp Kinasao. I prepared the sermon, anticipating a fairly unified group of ELCIC Lutherans gathering to worship and learn and be together. It did not work out quite as I expected.
Let me set the scene. There were about 20 men at the retreat. Some in their 20’s, some in the 70’s and most somewhere between. In the sessions and in the conversations over the day it became quite apparent that these men were not only different in age; they carried very different religious backgrounds. Some were of Roman Catholic background. Some were from the Baptist family of churches. Some had a negative relationship with the church yet had a deep faith in Jesus. Some were life-long Lutherans.Their life stories were just as different. Some shared stories about the farm. Some about the business. Some shared stories of personal struggle with a deep, deep honesty. (And some were life-long Maple Leaf fans–poor souls).
Here is what happened that Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Saturday night. 20 men sat in a circle. The pastor led a devotional time, a reading of the directions for keeping the Passover from Deuteronomy. Then a reading of the words of institution from 1 Corinthians. The question the pastor brought to the gathering: “What is your experience of Holy Communion? What can you say about it?” Around the circle we heard it all. “The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ—that’s just what it is.” “The bread and wine are still bread and wine. But we eat and drink to remember Jesus.” “The meal, just like the Passover for the Jews, invites people to be part of the people of God who are delivered from slavery.” “The bread and wine are still bread and wine, but in, with and under the bread and wine is the real presence of the Christ.” “I don’t know what it means. But it is important to me.” From the middle of the circle the pastor said, “There are a lot of different opinions around this circle. Can you live with that?” And, in the quietness around the circle I could see heads slowly nodding. But as devotions continued I said to myself, “Presiding at communion tomorrow is going to be interesting.”
Sunday morning. 20 men sat in a circle around a table with a chalice of wine and bread on a plate. We opened in prayer and a simple Taize hymn. Lessons were read by individuals from their place in the circle. Then the sermon. Then it was time for communion. The invitation ran something like this. “Two things. First, you all know, from last night, that around the circle we each understand what is happening here differently. Understanding that, I invite you to take part in the communion in spite of our differences. We may be quite different in our thinking, but we are one people in Christ. If you choose not to commune today, that’s fine as well. This is a place of hospitality to either take part in the meal or not. Your call. Second, please know this. Whether you are sure of what you think or are not so sure. Whether you are baptized or not or are not sure if you have ever been baptized. Whether you have had a good week or one you’d like to have back. Simply put, if you wonder whether you are welcome, the answer is ‘Yes.’” Then 20 men stood in a circle and communed each other. When all had communed we heard these words: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you and keep you in his grace.”
So there we were. Different people. Different ideas. Yet brought together in a profound way by that which we understood quite differently. Yet we were brought together in one communion just the same.
That’s the story. I’m still wondering what this little story might say about our life together as a community of faith. Something.