On the Reception of Holy Communion
Consider today's Wednesday Word both a theological reflection as well as a practical reflection. First, the theological.
As I travel down the altar rail distributing the blessed Sacrament of the Body of Christ to the great variety of people who come forward looking to be nourished, there is just as great a variety in the manner in which people receive that Sacrament. Some stand. Some kneel. Some reach their hands forward. Some rest their hands on the altar rail. One Sunday while I was making this sacred journey, I had a sudden vision of Michelangelo's “Creation of Adam” as painted on the Sistine Chapel.
In that painting God is seen reaching out with what seems to be every fiber of his being in an effort to touch Adam. It is clear that God is putting maximum effort into this event. Adam, on the other hand, is making no effort to reach God. He is, quite literally, reclining on a hillside, one arm supporting his body, and the other arm resting on a knee, his wrist relaxed and pointing downward. Even his face lacks enthusiasm for what God is trying to give him.
Now I'm not saying that when some people come forward to receive Holy Communion they are making no effort to reach God or that they lack enthusiasm, but I wonder if a different posture at the Communion rail might make a difference in how one perceives receiving the Body of Christ. Instead of resting arms on the rail waiting for God to make the effort to reach you, what if you raised your arms so that your hands were on a level with your chin, upraised and, in effect, reaching out to God? It just might be that a more active posture at the Communion rail might lead to a change in how you discern your part in the reception of Holy Communion.
And now for the practical. Although I am generally physically fit, I have suffered from chronic back pain for almost my entire life. I cannot honestly recall a time when my back did not hurt. Although it hurts on a regular and constant basis, there are some things that cause it to hurt more. For instance, washing dishes causes great pain. The reason is due to the angle at which I need to stand for that particular chore.
Another thing that causes me pain is making that same bending motion as I place the Body of Christ into hands resting on the altar rail. The more I have to make a half-bend, half-stoop motion, the more painful distributing Communion becomes. On a practical level, I am asking the good people of St. John's to raise your hands up to roughly chin level (putting elbows on the Communion rail is a good position) so that distributing Communion becomes a less painful experience for me.
Church is full of practical things (candles to see in the dark) that have taken on theological meanings (candles symbolize the light of Christ). Raising your hands at Communion is a practical way to keep your Rector from hurting, while also having a theological symbolism of actively reaching up to God.
Think about it; but know that regardless of how you approach the rail to receive Communion, you are still approaching and will be nourished with the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.