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The Sound of the Eucharist (Redux)

February 8, 2011

Almost a year ago, I wrote this for one of my college’s student magazines.  I ironically stumbled upon it today, and decided it might be worth sharing again:

“The Sound of the Eucharist”

The churches I grew up in always had music while the congregation came forward to receive communion.  I would always stand up from my cushioned chair and approach the Eucharist table singing a praise song I knew by heart.  I’d approach the table with a melody in my head, someone else’s words in mind, while coming forward to receive the body and the blood of Jesus.

But on this particular Sunday there is no music to accompany the “Christian pilgrims,” as my priest calls us, as we come to approach the altar.  The sanctuary is silent.  People stand up and move out of their pews, shuffling their feet along the floor, adjusting their sweaters and shirts as they stand.  Muffled voices of priests’ blessings over the bread and the wine are heard as the Eucharist is given, followed by more scuffling feet as the baptized made their way back to their seats.

This silence bothers me.  Where is the music?  Where is the organ to drown out the sounds of people walking across the room?  Where is the hymn to muffle the sounds of coughs and sneezes brought on by this cold February day?  I don’t like the sound of people. It ruins the illusion of approaching the throne of Christ.

I sit in my pew waiting for the signal that our row can approach the altar.  I keep listening to the sounds of the silence – the sounds of movement that can only be heard in the absence of music.  I watch the weary father bringing his three young children to the front.  He hushes his baby who makes small whimpers while they wait for the priest.  I watch a young couple holding hands and whispering in one another’s ear as they walk forward.  I see my friend, who is struggling to decide if he is truly a Christian, walk down the aisle.  His feet trudge along with a heavier sound than those around him.  I listen to the sounds of the priests giving “this bread and this wine” to the open hands, and while I can’t make out their words, I know from habit what they are saying.

Shoes scrape along the floor.  Babies whimper.  A woman sneezes.  A college student speaks “amen.”  An elderly gentleman plops his pew kneeler on the floor in front of him.  His knees crack when he kneels down in prayer.  A married woman’s ring scrapes the wood of the pew in front of me as she walks by.  And I am now signaled to approach the altar for Eucharist.

The rubber of my boots squeak along the floor that is now wet from the snow we have all tracked in.   I am surrounded by the sounds of people moving forward and away from the place of Holy Communion.  I am aware of a very real human experience that brings itself before Christ’s throne, and it is a reality I no longer want masked by music.  The only thing I was promised upon my creation was that I would be human.  And as humans we come; shuffling, squeaking, sniffling, weeping.  As I listen to the sounds of real people, this altar I am approaching becomes the crossroads of humanity and deity – as if this were the Bethlehem where God meets flesh.  I bring my sounds with me; I come without the pretense of illusion.

I receive the body and blood of Christ and walk back to my pew, mindful of the sounds my own movements are making.  I sit again to hear the rest of the congregation walk towards their Eucharist, pulling all the weight of their personhood behind them.  Here come your people, Lord, I think to myself.  Here come your people.  We come naked and vulnerable to the throne with nothing to mask us, not even sound.  Hear us scraping along, this ragamuffin group of people, with nothing more than physical bodies to bring before you.  There is no harmonious symphony to be heard out of our movements, but yet we come, and yet you bid us to come.

I have become partial to the silence.  I have found comfort in the sounds of humans approaching the altar of God.  We walk together, vulnerable in our personal noise, hopeful as we come to Christ.  It is the sound of transformation.  It is the sound of the Eucharist.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2011 11:58 pm

    Beautiful, Lauren. Just beautiful. Thank you for sharing your words with us!

  2. Jess permalink
    February 9, 2011 12:37 am

    I love this!! And it makes me miss sitting in church and taking communion with all of you.

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