What happens when health prevents you from fully partaking in a church service? What if you are bed-bound and unable to attend a service? What if you are deaf and cannot hear the sermon or the music? What if you cannot partake in communion because of a gluten allergy?
How does the church love you then?
Several of my friends are on gluten free diets due to Celiac’s disease or a gluten allergy. They were unable to take communion. The very bread and cup which were designed to nourish their souls was poison to their bodies.
They tried to modify the Eucharist. Bringing their own safe “elements” like almonds. Something bite-sized that could be eaten with the rest of the congregation. It was better than sitting in silence, but I’m sure it felt isolating each time the basket of glutenous bread passed through the aisles acting as a reminder of the difference between “them” and “us”.
These precious members talked to our pastor and told him of their trials. Many of them had been unable to take communion for years. He was grieved and asked how the church could help. That Sunday, as he helped prepare the hearts of the congregation for the Eucharist he said, “My job is to bring people to the table, to take away barriers and bring people to Jesus, the Bread of Life.”
It was then that I began to cry.
Our pastor asked all those with a need for gluten-free elements to come to the front row and receive communion for the first time in years. He then knelt down in front of each person, blessed the cup and gluten-free cracker and handed it to the grateful participant. I sat several rows back, holding my gluten-filled bread and cried. Cried that these people were finally seen, loved, and provided for. I cried that it was not too much trouble to provide gluten-free elements even though it affected only a handful of people. I cried because this meant that to my pastor and my church, these people were worth the inconvenience. I cried because that meant I was worth the inconvenience.
This is not meant only to show everyone how great my pastor is [though he’s pretty rad], but rather to show a time when we got it right. When we as the church pursued people who were overlooked and isolated and invited them into the party. That was, and is, a powerful picture to me.
We all have barriers blocking us from enjoying and experiencing the table fully. Yours may not be a dietary issue, but rather one of spiritual malnourishment. Do you struggle with bitterness? Unbelief? Unresolved conflict? Anxiety? Indifference?
Come to the table. Eat and drink fully. Experience the Bread of Life.