Beautiful. Touching. Holy.

It is hard and beautiful and exhausting and humbling to lead worship and celebrate Holy Communion for residents of our three local nursing homes. Some days, I grumble, because it takes so much energy to lead. Some days, I feel sad for those who are ailing and for those who no longer have a sense of who they are or the world around them. Some days, I feel a little bit scared about what it is to age and to watch loved ones decline. But sometimes, sometimes I am struck by the sheer wideness of God's grace in our worship together, and I am overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yesterday was one of those days.

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Sometimes beautiful things happen.

She was sitting off to the left of the crowd, refusing to stay where the nurses put her. She scooted her wheelchair around as we all worshiped together, blocking the hallway, obstructing the door to the nurse's station, grumbling when anyone would move her out of the way. At communion, I went over to where she had meandered and offered her the wafer of bread. She took it from me skeptically, not entirely sure what was going on. I gently encouraged her to dip the wafer into the wine, and as she did so, the muscle memory triggered her own memory, the lights came on in her eyes, she looked up and me and said, "Oh! It's communion!" She gobbled down her wafer and immediately grabbed a second one from the plate, dipping that one into the wine and eating it hungrily. "Thank you," she said.

* * *

Sometimes touching things happen.

We were singing together the hymn, "I Love to Tell the Story." Most of the assembled group didn't bother to look at their song sheets, because they knew the hymn so well. We sang through all three verses, and rounded the corner to the last refrain. There was one woman, sitting right in the middle of the room, who hadn't managed to keep up with the tempo our singing. So as the rest of us finished the last line, she was just beginning the final refrain. "I love to tell the story;" she sang alone. "T'will be my theme in glory; to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love!" I suppose that I could have cut her off, or prayed over the sound of her voice. But instead, we all just kept silent. Her words were a benediction to what we had all just been singing together.

* * *

Sometimes holy things happen.

I stopped by the room of one of our members after worship, to catch up on the latest news of his health and to give him communion with the leftover elements I had with me. There were a number of visitors in his room, and we greeted one another and made introductions. I was still carrying the plate of wafers and cup of wine, trying so hard not to spill it. I asked him if he wanted communion, expecting him to say no, since he was otherwise occupied with friends and conversation.

"Oh yes!" he said.

And all of his guests took their leave except for one dear friend and former student of his.

He nudged her to tell me her story of God's presence in her darkest night. She told me about being diagnosed, some number of years ago, with late-stage breast cancer. She told me about the night that she endured such fever and illness that she was sure she was at the edge of death. She told me about how she prayed for strength and guidance, and how she felt herself immediately swept up in the arms of the Holy Mother. Singing the words "Ave Maria" in church and in choirs now brings with it an entirely new meaning for her.

I turned back to the man I had come to visit, and he talked to me of his faith, and his trust in a God who sometimes swoops in at the eleventh hour - and not before! - so that we might never mistake our salvation for anything other than the power of God. He recalled the fortuitous - providential? miraculous? - chain of events that led him to end up in the ER (leading to a diagnosis and treatment) rather than staying in his own bed the night that he took ill, and he told me of how the hand of God was in that chain of events leading toward recovery rather than decline.

Then we joined together for the holy meal that I was balancing so tenuously in my lap. I recalled the words of institution over the wafers and wine - This is my body. This is my blood. Do this to remember me. - and I am quite sure that I have never said those words to people more receptive to them as these two. Faith and tears and the glow of grace poured out of their faces. My dear friend received the elements with holy gravity. His friend wept as she tasted the bread and the wine, telling me that this is the first communion she has received in ten years.

At the end of the visit, we stood and held hands. We prayed together. I know that I said words, but in that moment, we probably would have done just as well to stand there, because the presence of God in that place was so real, so thick, so electric that you could reach out and touch it. Earlier in the visit, the woman in the room had quoted me the line from Les Miserables: "To love another person is to see the face of God." In our little circle of prayer, that was most certainly true. Love for one another in the Spirit, and the face of God revealed.

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I still came home yesterday afternoon exhausted. (It takes energy to stand in the weighty presence of the holy.) But I came home renewed. It is a blessing and a privilege, this thing called ministry. Beautiful. Touching. Holy.


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