I can see that little building in my mind’s eye. It had been a modest residence, but our fledgling congregation had converted it into a place of worship. We knocked out walls to make a worship space, and various remaining rooms served for classrooms. We were a small group, but things looked promising, as World War II was bringing new people into the area all the time. For a kid who had spent the first nine years of his life in a small country congregation, the bustle was exciting.
We knew that when the fighting ended the congregation was going to move to a much larger place, just a few blocks from our small suburban home. This place was our tabernacle for a time.
I was deeply affected by the sincerity of the Sunday school teachers, and particularly loved one of them. When she was married following a Sunday service, the minister asked if anyone objected to the marriage. I considered raising my hand so that the wedding might be brought to a sudden halt.
I had asked the minister, Mr. Davis, if I could join the church. I was given a little book to read, and having answered the gentle questions of the elders, I was in. My parents and I stood with a few others to be received publicly.
What I loved most of all was the worship. I don’t remember anything that Mr. Davis said, but I remember him earnestly exhorting us in a kind way. Vivid memories of Christmas hymns learned in those days remain. For some reason, my preadolescent mind was affected by the combination of prayers, hymns, and sermons in that bare and modest sanctuary.
Communion was a high point. The reason for my wanting to join up was that I wanted to be able to sip from those little cups, and taste the slightly stale light bread from the plate passed through the congregation. Mr. Davis had a custom of asking if everyone had been served, after the elements were passed, and one Sunday, hearing his question, I raised my hand.
I had not been served.
Mother made it plain that I was not eligible, yet, and would have to wait until a later time. That time came when I met with the elders.
So, I was now a communicant, though I did not know that word. In those days, Communion was a rare event, celebrated the first Sunday of each quarter. No matter that our Communion ware was aluminum, and entirely plain, the sight of the white, starched linens excited me. The elders would remove the cloth in a little ceremony, revealing the humble serving plates and the trays with little cups filled with grape juice, standing in for the real stuff. I knew that our country church used the real stuff, because I had seen it in the hiding place beneath the pulpit.
I must have become something of an evangelist for Holy Communion. One Sunday, holding my copy of Junior Life in my hand, I was waiting for worship to begin. In fact, the lady had started playing something on the piano. I noticed that a couple of my parents’ friends were making their way to the church doors. Evidently, they were not going to attend the service.
I addressed them: “Are you staying for the eating and drinking?”
My mother was so embarrassed. I could not have done worse in her eyes. I had forgotten that I was a kid, and had asked a question reserved for preachers and very pious old persons. And, to make it worse, I had asked it in such a casual way. She had felt that I was making a mockery of a solemn thing. Communion was not, in those days, “the joyful feast of the people of God,” but rather a commemoration of death and sacrifice, and there was no resurrection in it at all. It was not to be taken lightly. No, indeed.
Now, more than sixty years later, I still remember that exchange in wonder. The persons to whom I addressed these words appeared flustered that a ten-year-old would ask such a question. My mother was alarmed, perhaps at my precocity. Daddy looked grim.
Something had happened to me, I truly believe. The eating and drinking became very important to me, and when I became a minister, I wanted people to “stay for the eating and drinking” often. No, none of the congregations began to mark every Lord’s Day with the Lord’s Feast. My last twenty years of active ministry shows that the church moved from five or six celebrations a year to fifteen.
Now days, I attend church with my wife who is used to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as the regular accompaniment to the Service of the Word. In other words, we “stay to eat and drink” each Sunday. I never tire of this sacrament, just as I never tire of ordinary meals. Just as I never tire of love, or of beauty, or of a great hymn, only partly heard these days due to my deafness.
There is always a thrill, after all these years, when the minister stands before us, and in a more elaborate language asks me: “Are you staying for the eating and drinking?”
And it all started in a little house, with dusty cars parked in front, in the years of another war, and in another time and in another place. Perhaps the wine and the bread are a bit more tasty, and music more grand, and the liturgy more challenging. The invitation is the same: Come, eat, drink, and live.
Lawton W. Posey is a retired minister living in Charleston, W. Va.