When I went to visit this particular parishioner in the hospital, I made sure to bring my communion supplies. I knew that receiving communion was important to this person and would be comforting. In hospital rooms, I usually set up communion on those little rolling table-tray things that they have. The same table that holds medical supplies, dirty tissues, and the leftovers of bad hospital food becomes an altar of sorts, upon which I place the Body and Blood of Christ as we pray together, a concrete sign that even in this messy, scary, unpleasant place God is present.
I was dismayed when I entered the room, though, because the person I was there to visit looked horrible. It quickly became clear to me that there was no way she would be physically able to consume wine or wafers. When dinner came, she asked for only broth and crackers, explaining hoarsely that she would not be able to swallow or handle more. When it arrived, I took the plastic top off the bowl of broth, crushed the crackers in their little packets, opened the packets, and put the crackers into the soup. There is no way she would have been able to accomplish any of this on her own. And then, after a feeble attempt to handle the spoon, she looked at me imploringly. Without words, I took the spoon, re-adjusted my position in the chair next to her bed, and I began to feed her,praying silently and fervently, one careful bite at a time, as machines beeped and whirred.
I have shared many meals with this parishioner, and brought communion – in the form of wine and wafers – to her dozens of time. But none was more filled with sanctity than this time, as I silently spoon-fed her broth and crackers in her hospital bed. Every bite waswrapped in prayer and blessed, every bite carrying a hope of nurturing, sustenance, and healing beyond the mere physical properties of the food. That broth and crackers became sacred. Every bite conveyed aloving connection between her and me and the Church community on whose behalf I was there. Every bite carried with it a concrete affirmation of God’s loving presence in that moment, in that place.
Communion comes in many forms, official and un-official. On that day, she did not receive the wine and wafer consecrated by official prayers of the gathered Church in worship at the altar. But there is no doubt that she received Holy Food, food consecrated by the presence of the Holy Spirit - palpable in the room -food consecrated to be the “outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace” (the “official” definition of a sacrament). The broth and crackers, in that moment, was a holy food of blessing, wrapped in prayer and filled with a kind of love that was not about her or me, but pointing beyond to eternity. They were a sign not only of my care for her, but the love of the entire Church community which I represent as a Priest, and a sign of God’s presence -nurturing, sustaining, healing and loving in the midst of her pain and fear. The little rolling tray-table in the hospital room was, indeed, an altar. And as my legs got a little bit sore and I looked down to adjust my position, it occurred to me, as if I had just noticed it really, that I was on my knees in the chair as I prayed and offered each bite.