We live right across the street from a hospital with a helipad. Several times a week – or maybe several times a day on long summer holiday weekends – we can hear the emergency helicopter landing and taking off. From inside the house it sounds no louder than a leaf blower, but outside the protection of our thick walls, on the front porch or in the yard, the deafening sound is a physical presence pushing against your sense of safety.
Every time I hear the helicopter, I am conflicted. The choppy roar of its rotors means someone has been injured severely. But that sound also means there’s a chance that person can be saved, a chance that didn’t exist before air ambulances were available.
This is not unlike the conflict I feel at the communion table.
The Eucharist exists because we, as individuals and a species, suffer from severe spiritual injuries. It is a weekly reminder that we are broken in ways that need serious attention. It is also a reminder that we can be saved. There was a time, the time before Christ offered to love us into wholeness, when we were offered no hope for such injuries. I’m sad it is necessary but so grateful for its presence. What a bittersweet balance.
Inside the walls of the church, the Words of Institution are more comfort than disturbance: “Before Jesus was given up to death, a death he freely accepted, he gave You thanks…” Outside the walls of the church, these words can seem threatening to the injured. Imagine being hurt so badly you need to be airlifted to a hospital. Imagine the overwhelming sound and chaos and immensity of a helicopter descending onto your broken body. That doesn’t feel like hope – that feels like disaster.
When we invite someone to the table for the first time, we need to understand a lifeline sometimes looks like a noose. Where we appreciate the helicopter because it’s already saved us, they may just hear a confusing, even frightening, noise. We don’t fix that by speaking more loudly (or more frequently, or more insistently). We fix it by offering to ride with them, to hold their hand, and to stay by their side until the fear and pain have passed. Until it sounds like hope.
If you are a frequent guest of the table, extend your hand. If you have never come to the table, please accept that hand and try to believe the fear does not outweigh the promise. Our pilot has only your salvation at heart.
May the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.