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So I’m bringing communion to my home bound members on a Sunday afternoon. The Elder who normally accompanied me had to back out at the last minute, so I’m headed to the nursing home on my own.

At one time, the 90-ish man with whom I’ll be sharing the Lord’s Supper was a pillar of the church I serve. He was a farmer with a healthy respect for bulls. When he and his wife were unable to have children, they adopted four rough and tough brothers who already had experienced the wild side of life. They bulked up to become high school wrestlers and had little interest in their adopted father’s faith—and not much interest in checking up on him in his old age either.

He was in the nursing home, because he took a tumble in his home and lay stuck on the floor for a couple days — he couldn’t reach the emergency call button he wore around his neck. He was pretty far gone when someone found him, but he recovered enough to move to the nursing home, unable to walk or hear well.

The nursing home itself was one of those 1960s style places with lots of tiny rooms, each of which housed two people with their beds, trays, recliners, wheelchairs, walkers and a dresser. There was barely room to maneuver. Each room also shared a mini-bathroom with the room next door.

The whole place reeked of urine and excrement, but in one of those paradoxes of nursing care, I would have to say that the staff was one of the kindest I’ve ever seen in a nursing home. It’s sad if you can’t have the best of everything in a nursing home, but if you have to choose between stinky kindness or ultra-clean indifference (or worse), I have to go with kindness. But usually you don’t have any choice anyway. You get what you get when it comes to nursing homes.

Sometimes my friend would celebrate the Lord’s Supper while lying in bed, but on this occasion, he was sitting in his recliner right next to the bathroom door. After visiting for a bit, we switched to our time of worship. During the initial prayer I heard a man from the other room enter the bathroom. And as I was reading the liturgy, I quickly realized that this man in the bathroom was going to share with us the agonies of his constipation. Throughout the Lord’s Supper, we heard the groans and grunts and gasps of a man in great discomfort, as well as the plopping sounds of bowels moving.

My friend was deaf enough to not notice the accompanying soundtrack, but I sure did. I had to do my utmost to concentrate on the task at hand.

At first, I wanted the man to finish his business and stop the “music,” so we could get on with our prayers and spiritual contemplations. I quickly realized, however, that this vivid reminder of agony and suffering could actually be heard in tune with the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. The little silver tray. . . the cube of white bread. . . the shiny plastic cups containing a thimble of Welch’s grape juice. . . our faces scrunched up in prayer as we attempt to feel spiritual—it all seems so distant from the horrendous events of Golgotha. But the man in the bathroom knew agony.

The apostle John confessed “that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).

This Word of life was not only heard in the wonderful sermons and parables Jesus told, but also in the pounding of nails, the mockery of the crowd, and the screams of agony at the cross, including the awful cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”

The Word of life was not only seen in the marvelous miracles Jesus performed, but also in a lifetime of suffering, culminating in a bloody death.

The Word of life was not only touched when Jesus offered a warm embrace and a healing hand, but also when the women—like the kind workers in the nursing home—gently cleaned his corpse of the body fluids that at one time functioned as signs of life: blood, sweat, tears, saliva, maybe even urine and vomit.

So in a sense, the man in the bathroom next door was supplying a fitting soundtrack for our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Physical human agony and divine spiritual agony were all wrapped together when Jesus went to the cross to open the door of salvation to all who look to him for help.

Early heretics, later lumped together under the Gnostic label, couldn’t stand the idea that God and salvation had anything to do with body fluids and agony. They would have regarded the Lord’s Supper that I celebrated in the nursing home as a sacrilege. For that matter, they probably would have even objected to our more usual antiseptic communion rituals, because those rites still put us in contact with physical realities like bread and wine. They preferred a contemplative worship that didn’t involve the digestive system.

But the juxtaposition of the sacred and the sordid that I experienced in the nursing home took me once again to that wretched, gross, vile and offensive place of grace that we call Golgotha.

David Landegent

David Landegent is a retired pastor in the Reformed Church in America, now living with his wife Ruth in Oregon. He spends his time carting grandkids and writing books on biblical studies (Colossians, 1 Peter, and Christmas) and renewed lyrics for classic rock songs. For the past 39 years he has been a weekly contributor of discussion questions to The Sunday School Guide, and its editor for the past 21 years.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    It’s remarkable how often bringing Holy Communion to the elderly, sick, and shut-in, outside the sanctuary, offers encounters and experiences that bring out meanings of the sacrament which are unlikely to be expressed in church. How much I learned from this old Reformed practice.

  • Keith Mannes says:

    Spoke to my heart. I respect and appreciate YOUR heart. Love what you expressed and the skill with which you expressed it.

  • Yes! Many of us so underestimate the power of the sacrament in the world outside our sanctuaries. I had many awkward, but sacred moments while doing home communions as well as communion in institutions.

  • James C Dekker says:

    Wow. Lovely, deep, provocative, fittingly unsettling ideas. Thank you very much. Peace.

  • Cornelis Kors says:

    Thank you Dave! A meaningful reflection that touches on the heart of the sacrament!

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    Thanks, this reminded me of my seminary internship with Hospice. Visiting family homes and nursing homes and serving those who left the church or were left out was eye-opening & humbling, but also a real blessing.

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