By Christian McIvor
The table was set.
Atop the German white oak, Montreat-style table crafted for our church by a local woodworker sat 12 stones that had been gathered from our music minister’s back yard, serving as a reminder of God’s rescuing hand in the Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan and the placing of the monument at Gilgal (Joshua 4.1-3, 8-10, 20-24); this reading had been used to begin our current sermon series, “Many Rivers to Cross.”
The clay plates, pitcher, and chalice that had originally been designed by a local potter for our youth minister’s wedding were adorned with French bread from a local market bakery and filled with wine of grapes harvested in California. Members of the congregation – people from all walks of life living throughout the Piedmont Triad – stood in contented anticipation around the perimeter of the chapel. From many divergent points these elements had intentionally come together in this interconnected moment, creating a sacred shared space for our church community, and it was my honor to be leading the communion celebration for the first time.
Our pastor had given a characteristically beautiful and artfully crafted sermon on the Noachic Covenant (Genesis 9.8-17), and now it was time for our congregation to be spiritually renewed with a symbol of God’s eternal love. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and in the center of the moment, I fell into God’s love-energy, which was circulating throughout the entire congregation, and felt as if time and space were shed like garments, opening to the unified love that was shining throughout the church.
I opened my eyes and any sense of nervousness had disappeared; the words I had prepared seemed to flow like a song – how the image of a rainbow reminded us of God’s promise to equally and infinitely love all living beings, and how we were reminded of God’s eternal, renewing, and restoring love in the communion meal. Then I offered the words of institution and we ate and drank together, remembering through the symbols of bread and wine that we are called to come alive in Christ and be God’s love in the world.
We are now moving toward the close of a year in which we’ve witnessed political upheaval as well as continued inequity, war, starvation, poverty, and oppression across the globe. In our own country, we have undergone a steady string of divisive events including continued mass shootings, terrorist attacks, hate crimes, natural disaster devastation and politicization of relief efforts, the dismantling of environmental protections, the stripping of rights and protections from various minority groups and communities, a rise in public allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and an extremely steep decline in decency and respect across the board in our public and political discourse. It is quite clear that people are hurting and in need of radical love and compassion.
Having the opportunity to celebrate communion together as a church community gives us the chance to remember our call to dive deeply into the living stream of God’s love and let its current flow through us so that we might actively provide the presence of God’s eternally renewing love for each and every one of our neighbors. In celebrating the communion meal, we create space to remember how Jesus performed the ultimate act of love for each one of us. We remember our purpose to bring people together in the same way that we unite as a loving community before the table. And we remember our duty as Christ-followers to come alive and live confidently and fiercely in the love of God, for in this love we are called to be agents of justice, reconciliation, and compassion for all.
You can listen to Come Alive, an original song about my experience of celebrating communion for the first time here.
Christian McIvor is a CBF Leadership Scholar, and is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He holds D.M.A. and M.M. degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro School of Music and a B.A. from the State University of New York at Potsdam, and he currently serves as an Assistant Minister at College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C.