On Sunday morning, May 1st, I was working in the church garden with the kids during worship. Like many churches, we send the kids out to Sunday School after the Children’s Sermon, and then come running back in for communion on the weeks when it is served. My hands were muddy from scooping holes into the ground for the tomato plants and I did not pause to wash them on my way back into the sanctuary.
We’re trying to do a little Creation-Care as well as Feed-The-Hungry learning in the garden but quite frankly, that morning, the nearby swing set, not to mention the super cool hillside of mulch had more attraction power then the tomatoes & peppers part. Although harvesting, and eating the peas did pull the kids back from tossing the pine cone bombs for a few minutes. I’m thinking the key to Christian Education with this crew will be the ability to talk fast when the windows open up. Also, bribing with food seems promising as well.
Like many congregations that have adopted communion-in-the-round, people used to tear their own pieces of bread off the main loaf but the last round of flu anxiety seems to have permanently installed not only the ceremonial lathering of anti-sceptic hand gels by the serving elders who only hold the plates and not the bread, but also had mandated pre-slicing the loaf into handy single serving bits perfect for dunking.
While I’m listening to the prayers that open the communion part of the service, I realize that I still have garden-dirt encrusted hands.
Which is going to be a problem.
Do I step back away to wash my hands and possibly miss some or all of communion? If we believe that through the Eucharistic meal we encounter the Risen One, what’s the minimum entry in order to experience that encounter? Showing up just in time for the bread and wine or participating in the Work of the People (aka liturgy) to open ourselves, or all of us to Christ’s presence? Would dirt on my hands disqualify me from coming into Christ’s presence? Its clean dirt, its future-tomato, future-food dirt, how bad can this be?
On the other hand, given this time of ecclesiastically incorporated impurity anxiety, the possibility that my garden-blessed hands could contaminate bread heading for the mouths of my communion community could push others out of the circle that I was trying to stand within.
So, as the plate came toward me, I tapped my neighbor’s shoulder (with the back of my hand), showed him and the server the earth still drying on my palms and fingers and asked him to take a piece of bread for me. He laughed and held both our bread bits till the cup came next, then dunked and served first himself and finally me. It was a brief moment of spiritual intimacy. I was vulnerable, I was not prepared to participate on my own power. I was at the table in need of assistance which was given to me.
Perhaps it was selfish or self-centered of me to not step back out of the circle. Perhaps I was calling unnecessary attention to myself (and writing about it in the first person underlines that possibility).
But I like that I had earth on my fingers at that moment. I like that I was still hands deep in the garden, in the kids, in spring, and in anticipation of summer bounty to be shared with the food bank. It felt like another form of spiritual expansion to have dirt under my fingernails while Communion was being celebrate with everyone and the Great Host of this eternally ongoing grand feast.
We don’t know how its going to go with the tomatoes or the kids or even ourselves. We plant and tend and hope for the best and take communion whenever and where ever it is offered to us for it is a good gift of Christ’s promise to never leave us. The mud on my hands and the wine soaked bread in my mouth both spoke of God’s generous goodness for which I am grateful.
Thanks be to God.
Anitra Kitts lives, writes, gardens, now teaches sunday school classes and occasionally preaches in Sonoma County, California. A graduate of SFTS, Anitra is a certified candidate for the Ministry of the Word and Sacrament.