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Sunday, June 10, 2007

First Communion

I wish you could have seen his face. He was positively glowing. The way, I suspect, we all did. Once. The first time someone at the altar stood before us and offered “the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.”

Adam has allergies. Terrible allergies. Life-threatening allergies to wheat and soy and dairy. So does Christian – to wheat. It was Christian’s mom who first brought the “problem” of communion bread or wafers to my attention. Christian was feeling rather badly that he was not able to take communion at the rail with his sister and the rest of his family. The time at the communion rail began to feel not only like an exercise in futility, but a sort of a cruel hoax.

Oh, he didn’t say that, but I saw it in his eyes every time he came to the communion rail. Why would anyone who talked about the abundant, all-inclusive love of God from the pulpit one minute then offer “the Bread of Heaven” at the Lord’s Table to everyone but him? If this really were “the Body of Christ” how could it possibly make him ill?

He was terribly confused and hurt, and it pained me to see it on his face every Sunday. “Don’t they make allergy-free communion wafers?” his mom asked one Sunday. I mean, we offer wheat-free and peanut-free snacks at Coffee Hour. We’ve even started to serve decent coffee. But, we can’t find something we can serve at the communion rail?” I promised to check.

The next Monday, Randy, our intrepid Parish Administrator, and I had a conversation. As we spoke, he revealed that his brother had terrible allergies – not only to wheat but also to all grains as well as soy and all dairy products. He hadn’t taken communion in years, he said. We agreed that someone must be doing something about this and Randy agreed to research it for me.

Within days, Randy appeared triumphant at my office door. “Guess what?’ he asked in quiet excitement, which is his way. “I found it! I found communion wafers that are wheat, all grain, all soy and all dairy-free! This is something even my brother can have!”

Excitedly, we looked at the information on the web site, which included the fact that the wafers must be stored separately from the other communion wafers and/or bread. Indeed, the website advised that hands which touched one ought not touch the other, as even that could set off a terrible allergic reaction in some people. In fact, a kiss on the cheek from someone who has just consumed the offending allergen will sometimes leave a welt on the person who is allergic.

We checked with our Parish Nurse and then ordered a box of the allergy-free wafers and excitedly awaited their arrival, which came before the week’s end. I found a small, plain wooden jewelry box with a cover which we labeled, “Consecrated Allergy-free Communion Wafers.” We notified all Eucharistic Ministers of the new procedure, carefully instructing them to allow the person or child to take their own wafer from the small wooden box.

We also called Christian’s mom and let her know that he could come to the communion rail and be fully included. She was thrilled. That Sunday, Christian was probably more curious than excited, but the look on his face told me that the wafer (which looks more like a small, round cracker or chip), didn’t taste half-bad.

I suspect, being all-boy, he still doesn’t like being “special and different” but he seems pleased not to be excluded. Not to mention the fact that his sister would love very much to be “special and different,” which makes communion for Christian sweeter somehow in the tension that will exist forever, no doubt, between siblings.

Adam is a bit different. The changes in his dietary regime have made a miraculous change in this young boy’s life. I have personally witnessed those changes over the past five and a half years. His allergies were affecting his ability to hear and focus and concentrate – very important components of speech, socialization and learning.

He now looks in my eyes and shakes my hand in the reception line, even allowing me an occasional (if not begrudging) hug. That would never have been even imaginable five years ago. He speaks in full, coherent sentences, is doing quite well in school, and has become quite the social butterfly.

Still, there was something missing. Things might have been well during the week, but on Sunday, when he came to the communion rail, his mom would pop a chip or a cracker in his mouth while the rest of the family took the bread and the wine. Adam would slink down below the altar rail, crouch down on the kneeler and munch on his chip, looking up at me between the upright bodies of his sister and parents, as if somehow he was doing something perhaps not wrong but not quite right.

You can imagine that, after all of this hard work, his mom was a little reluctant to introduce anything to his diet that might have even the potential for problems. So it was with the kind of skepticism that raised her eyebrow as she listened to me speak of the communion wafers. A few Sundays ago, she agreed to give it a try.

I wish you could have seen his face. I brought over the small, plain wooden box which contain the consecrated allergy-free wafers and invited him to take one. He looked up at his mom who smiled and nodded her consent. His eyes got very, very wide with excitement as he reverently took one in a delicate pinch of his fingers.

He examined the wafer briefly and, as he put it into his mouth, I said, “Adam, this is the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.” And, Adam looked at me and gave me the brightest smile I have ever seen and said, softly, sweetly, with an unmistakable mixture of gratitude and satisfaction, “Amen.” I tell you, he positively glowed!

And, he didn't crouch down. He knelt upright at the altar. Confident and yet reverent. His "body language" told me he knew that his was right and good.

You won’t be surprised to learn that it brought tears to my eyes. This, THIS, I thought, is what Eucharist is all about. This is what it ought to be every time, for each and every one of us.

Perhaps, now hearing of these stories, it will be. Perhaps “a little child shall lead” you deeper into the sweet mystery of Holy Communion, where we are promised forgiveness and wholeness which places us on the path to salvation and holiness of life.

I know this will not convince our Roman or Anglo-Catholic sisters and brothers of the sacramental efficacy or appropriateness of anything but "real bread" at Communion.

I just wish you could have seen his face.


Sparrow said...

I have followed similar situations in the RCC for a few years now. What a simple, elegant solution. I must tell you, your narrative brought tears to my eyes, too.

Bill said...

Ok, Elizabeth, between you and Adam, you brought a few tears to my eyes. But of course, you know that I had my own issues with being able to receive communion before coming to St. Pauls. It really is a special moment when you can finally receive Our Lord at the altar. It may not be fully appreciated by those who always had the privilege but I know exactly how young Adam felt.

Eileen said...

I luf you Elizabeth+!