As is the tradition for our family, we attended a Holy Week service Thursday night. Our Wilmington church has been holding its Holy Week service on Wednesdays, a service that is a variation on the Stations of the Cross. We stayed in town this year, though, worshiping with our local church family and attending the Maundy Thursday service, a Tennebrae service. Tennebrae is Latin for “shadows,” and the service elicits within the worshiping community an emotional response to the darkness that comes as we reflect on the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Christ as he died for our sins. Although it had been six years since the last time we’d participated in a Tennebrae service, I remember it as a powerful, valuable part of our Holy Week traditions. This year was no exception, but one part of the whole service stands out for me as being particularly special.
Holy Week services typically include the Lord’s Supper, and such was the case here. A little background… My family is Baptist, but our local church is Methodist. Theologically, the differences aren’t enough to bother us. However, we do have a difference in belief about when people, children especially, should take Communion. In our Baptist beliefs, the taking of Communion is a reaffirmation of our belief in Jesus Christ as the One who established the New Covenant with his followers, as well as a renewing of our commitment to follow him, certainly in our life, but even to death if necessary. It’s important to me that someone (e.g., my daughters) take Communion with that understanding and commitment in her heart. My oldest daughter has made her commitment to follow Jesus, but my youngest is still growing into her faith and isn’t there, yet. In the Methodist Church, even those who have not yet committed their lives to Christ can receive Communion; the belief is that God extends prevenient grace through that sacrament (ordinance in Baptist circles) and thereby draws people to Godself. I envision it as God slowly reaching people through love and grace, instead of trying to shortcut with dragging and Bible thumping. Luckily, our pastor and I understand and respect each other’s views on this.
We were at the alter Thursday night. My youngest had slipped her shoes off; she’d been so restless through the first prayers and responsive readings. She had asked if she gets bread, and I told her, “No.” “Why not?” “You’re not quite ready, yet, but you’re getting there.” She arrived at the alter and whispered, “I don’t have my shoes on.” The disciples and Jesus were barefoot at the Last Supper themselves. The pastor distributed the bread, asking if my wee one could have it. I said, “No, not yet.” Instead, our pastor laid her hands on my daughter’s head and gave her a blessing. There it was. Right there. The bestowing of grace. The elements would have been bread dipped in juice for my daughter, and that’s pretty much it. But when Pastor Ellen gave H this blessing from God, it was a completely holy moment. My daughter looked up at our pastor with this light in her eyes and a totally beatific smile on her face, that dimple popping out, and said simply, “Thank you.” God’s grace worked through our pastor Thursday night to draw H still closer to that full relationship with him.