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Our church has the most delightful set of individual communion cups. No two of them are alike. One Sunday a few years ago, one of the elders (who is also a potter) brought little balls of clay to church and invited everyone to make a cup. And everyone did. All ages, all abilities, all genders, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Everyone made a cup. The potter took them home to glaze and fire them and now there is a basket full of them.

I asked to borrow the cups this past weekend to use in serving communion to the residents at the long term care home where I am the pastor. Before our afternoon worship service, I set out twenty cups on a towelled tray. I carefully poured grape juice into each tiny cup, using a cream serving pitcher. The juice settled into different shapes, depending on the edges of the cups. Squares. Circles. Amoebas. Some of the cups held more juice than others, depending on their size.

Many of the cups are etched with an intersecting circle and cross, but some have hearts or pressed finger prints, stippled sides or scalloped rims. Tiny like thimbles and tall like miniature vases. Thick and thin. Some with edges curved out for easy sipping. Some shallow like little bowls. A few baby mugs. Two goblets. One carefully crafted in the form of a bird.

I carry the tray from the kitchen into the auditorium and a resident who has arrived quite early calls out to me. “Are you bringing in lunch?!” Why, hello, Margaret!* I guess I am bringing in a kind of lunch. We’re having communion today! “Oh, you’re Pastor Heidi!” she says after I set the tray down and come closer to her.

And then Margaret tells me about the conversation she’s had with the Lord on her way in. (She has such a hard time hearing my voice over the sound system. Sometimes she thinks it would be better just to sit in her room and read a prayer book.) “But the Lord told me I should come,” she says. “And I said, ‘Okay, Lord! Even if I can’t hear, I’ll just let the words move through me!’” (What a beautiful way to think about encountering things we cannot fully sense!) And the bread and the juice, too! I say. You don’t need to hear those! She laughs and nods. “Yes, yes. That’s good, too.” I’m so glad you’re here, Margaret.

Later in the service, I approach the residents one by one, offering them a piece of bread and giving them one of the little cups. Some of them take the elements with a kind of eagerness and relief. “It’s been too long,” Elizabeth says. Some hold out their hands to receive. Some cross themselves.

A younger couple sits in the second row. The woman’s mother is actively dying in another part of the home. She stands as I come by with the tray. “I’m here for my mom,” she says as she holds out her hands. This is the body of Christ, given for you. And yes, for your mom, too.

One resident, when I ask her if she would like to partake, looks at me apologetically. “I’m sorry, I just really don’t understand. I don’t think I can.” Oh, dear one, I think. It’s not about understanding, in some ways. And yet, it is. Right now, it is about understanding for you. And I touch her shoulder and speak a blessing.

“This is for Sarah,” a resident says as she takes the bread. She is naming a fellow resident who is grieving the sudden death of her adult child. Yes. For Sarah. Jesus is with her in the valley of the shadow. And you are claiming this for her.

And Charlotte. Tears stream down her face. Would you like communion today, Charlotte? She can’t speak. She nods and opens her mouth. I place the bread on her tongue and wait for her to chew and swallow. I lift one of the cups to her lips and pour in every last drop, wondering at our surprisingly smooth sacramental choreography.  

Josie. She smiles from ear to ear as she takes the bread and holds it in her hand. “Thank you so much,” she says. I set a cup on her walker for her to take when she is ready. It is still there, perfectly full and forgotten at the end of the service. I quietly put it back on the tray.

And then Jenny. She never misses a service. Her fingers, nearly frozen with age and disease, hold a gold rosary. I approach her with the elements. She smiles at me. “I am not afraid,” she says. Perhaps she means that she – a devout Roman Catholic – is not afraid to receive the Lord’s Supper from me – a Protestant female minister – at this ecumenical service.

Or perhaps Jenny is (also) giving her testimony… her statement of trust in the face of the evening hours of her life and her declining health. “I am not afraid.” Her fingers can still hold the bread and the little clay cup. I am so glad you are not afraid, Jenny.

Later that day, when I am at home, I fill my sink with hot soapy water and gently let the used cups tumble into their bath. They dully clink and clunk against each other. I pick them up one by one, rubbing their smooth surfaces, running them under cool water and placing them upside down on a towel to dry.

No two of them the same.

Filled. Emptied. Washed. Ready to be filled again.

*All names have been changed

Heidi S. De Jonge

Heidi S. De Jonge is a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church who lives in Kingston, Ontario, with her husband, three children, and a dog.

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