One day, I ran into the vicar somewhere between the church and the vicarage. I would have been around fifteen or sixteen, I suppose – there’s a lot I don’t remember about that time. Over the past few months (I don’t remember how long), I had been spending my Sunday church hours playing the piano for the Sunday School, which met separately from the church service, in the hall at the edge of the churchyard.
For years, when I first began going to church, I didn’t even know that there was a Sunday School, since I had no reason to walk around that side of the square. But at some point I’d discovered its existence, and they’d discovered that I played piano well enough to accompany a few children’s hymns, and the deal was done. I spent my Sundays serving the children instead of in church.
The vicar stopped, and greeted me. I answered politely. Then he said,
“You need to come to Communion. It’s been too long.”
I thought, I’m busy, with your Sunday School children. Don’t you know that?
I said, “I’ve been playing piano for the Sunday School.”
I thought, I didn’t ask for this, you know. They asked me, and I said yes. I’m doing them – I’m doing you – a favour. Don’t you appreciate it?
I said, “They asked me to.”
I thought, what do you know, anyway? About me? About my life?
I said, “What do you want me to do about it? I can’t leave them in the lurch!”
He nodded. Then he said, with a gentle air of finality,
“You need to come back to Communion.”
Years later, feeling spiritually restless and unmoored, I was struck by the realization that it had been a while since I had presented myself at Communion. I thought, “You need to come back to Communion.”
I’ve been remembering, while working this week on the Exhortations from the 1790 Book of Common Prayer. That most comfortable sacrament, God’s feast, the table laid, the places ready, lacking only the guests. How disappointed God would be if we failed to show. How unnecessarily we withhold ourselves from the comforts of Jesus’ body and blood, Jesus’ sharing of himself with us.
I hear the appeal of the authors of the Exhortations, their love for God, their knowledge of the love of God, and their desire to share that love with the people of God. I hear their tenderness for their flock, and their thankfulness to God, and I hear him once again.
Not, “you should.” Not, “you ought.” Not even, “why haven’t you?”
But, “You need to come back to Communion.”
He died earlier this month. Praying him light and peace, comfort to his family, I give thanks for his life and ministry; especially that ministry in passing, between the church and the vicarage, on a street corner; a brief but lasting appeal, an invitation to a feast issued to a slightly famished teenaged soul.