by Lois Petersen
It was a warm Sunday, on May 14, 1961. I was 14 years old. My church, Salem Lutheran, in North Minneapolis combined both Confirmation Sunday and First Communion together on the same day.
I remember having to wear a crisp white robe. My mother had to press it several times to get several nasty wrinkles out. She was so happy for me, and because that day was to be so special, she wanted me to look my best.
But…I was anxious about the whole thing. What was this mysterious happening? When do I go up to the Communion rail? Would I kneel correctly? Would I choke on the wafer? Would I spill the wine? On and on, questions like these flooded my brain. I would be embarrassed if I didn’t do everything right. And, that was definitely the Law in a teen’s world: “Thou shalt not do something embarrassing that would make you stand out.”
That special Sunday morning came, and my nervousness grew. I walked with my mom to church as always, and we got there early. All of the Confirmands sat in the choir loft which was in front and to the left of the communion rail. Since we would be up front and visible, it ensured we would all behave.
The bulletin didn’t specify when we were all to file up to the Communion rail, so I asked my friend Lesley, sitting next to me, if she knew when we should go up, and she said, “Of course I do. When it is time to go up, I’ll whisper ‘Go!’ to you.” I was to be the first in line, and walk down to the farthest end of the railing. Now, thanks to Lesley, I would have no problem getting there at the right time. Ahh… I was saved from embarrassment.
We all stood up for a prayer, and when that was over, it felt like it was The Time, so I made my move. I turned my body slightly to get ready to step out of the choir loft, and then I heard Lesley whisper, “Go!”…or so I thought. I calmly marched down to the end of the railing and knelt in reverence, folding my hands on the rail and waited for the pastor to bring the wafer and then the wine.
Then… I looked to my left. Horror of horrors…I was all alone at the rail! The rest of the Confirmands were still sitting in the choir loft, staring at me, as were the thousands (well hundreds, anyway) in the congregation. My face burned as it turned several shades of red, and my whole body was shaking.
The pastor turned around, saw me, and with a shake of his head and a wave of his hand, he sent me back to the loft.
With my lips trembling, knees shaking, and my stomach aching I walked back to the loft. I sadly looked at Lesley. She whispered: “I said, ‘No!’ not ‘Go!’”
When the real time came, of course, the wafer did get stuck in my throat, and the wine didn’t help to wash it down. I sat the rest of the service, still humiliated and sick to my stomach. I wondered if I would ever take communion again.
My mom helped me through this devastating time. After the service, she told me that God was with me that day, as always, and that I had a special time with him alone at that railing. (I just didn’t know it at the time.) She also told me that God doesn’t care what mistakes are made at Communion. The important thing is that you know what Communion means, and that you thank God for Jesus every time you commune. Be joyful and grateful for what Jesus has done for you, and remember that the Sacrament of Holy Communion reminds you of the sacrifice of Jesus for you, to keep in your soul forever.
Those were wise words, and I have kept them in my heart. Throughout the years since then, I remember to be joyful, and I come away visibly smiling after receiving Communion. To me, Holy Communion is not a solemn affair. I smile because I know what Jesus has done for me through His precious body and blood. I am never alone. That gives me a lot to smile about.
During Lent 2011, we are encouraging the St. Philip the Deacon community to reflect on the Sacrament of Holy Communion — recalling early memories, describing memorable celebrations of Communion, or reflecting on how Communion informs daily life. This post is part of that series. We invite your reflections about Communion, as well. If you would like to submit something for this series, please send it to Pastor Cheryl Mathison at firstname.lastname@example.org.