The Ritual

Mama called it a “symbol.”

My grandpa said it was a “picture of Christ.”

I’d never taken it, but I wanted to. A desire formed inside my 6- year-old being to take part in this ceremony that was an intrinsic part of the Baptist church life.

They denied my request. The church people. Mom. Grandpa. I wasn’t old enough, they said. I had to wait until I really understood.

So, I waited and waited.

I kept watch through young eyes as everyone else joined in this sacred event. My grandpa called it the “Lord’s Supper.” His resonant voice droned the words from Matthew’s Gospel. I listened to the story of Jesus again and again. I knew the bread wasn’t really His body or the grape juice actually His blood. Still, I couldn’t wait to participate in this ritual.

A part of the ceremony was frightening too as the preachers solemnly warned me to “not drink of the cup unworthily.” With hard faces and piercing eyes, they stared at the congregation, urging full confessions of the deep sins of the soul.

At age 7, I was baptized.

That spring, I received communion for the first time. Still a child of innocence, I was beaming inside while seriousness remained on my face. I drank the juice and ate the bread. I joined the ritual.

Guilt came at a later time.

Guilt for unknown sins. Guilt for any confessions unsaid. Guilt racking my soul for anything I missed in my whispered prayers to God. Desperately, I admitted anything I could remember.

Still, what if I had forgotten something? What about the neglected regions of my soul? Surely I was missing something.

What if I drank the cup unworthily? What if I ate the bread in sin? Would God be angry at my flippancy towards His supper?

I sought a mystic connection at the Lord’s Supper. I expected to feel clean and righteous after each time. However, all I felt was overwhelming guilt at the speck of sin that might remain in my soul.

Then I encountered Jesus.

The real One, not the angry One that had been emblazoned in my brain by well-meaning sources.

The Jesus of the Gospels who healed the lepers, wept with the mourning, and protected the sinful.

The Jesus who broke the bread and blessed the wine.

The Jesus who asked me to simply remember His sacrifice at each celebration of communion.

The Jesus who said, “Your sins are forgiven. I covered everything at the Cross. I did all this for you.”

Once this resonated in my heart and soul, my guilt vanished. I was free to thank Jesus for His forgiveness and grace. I released the need to feel I’d “covered all my bases”. Instead, I rejoiced in the fact that His sacrifice had truly atoned for me.

Now, when I stand in my church and receive the communion, tears often run on my face.

God isn’t requiring something from me. Jesus met those requirements.

I need only to be. I need only to present myself to the Divine and watch Him work in my heart and life.

The hymn writer, Kristen Getty, penned, “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me. From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”

I’m accepted and loved. The guilt was then, the grace is now.

The ritual is still a ritual, but, at this moment, I understand the depth and breadth of love behind it.

It was truly worth waiting for.

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