Posted by: alliehope | October 6, 2009

At The Altar of Grace

As I sat this morning with a pastry at my local Panera, I read a piece on Communion in the marvelous Gifted for Leadership blog. The weight of my own story hit me again: I came to Christ during a Communion service.

I can see it now as clearly as anything: I’m 12 years old, having come from Sunday School into service, as was my routine. I don’t remember the pastor’s sermon that day, but I do remember hearing him very clearly say something to the effect of “Jesus gave us this Sacrament to help us remember the price He paid for us, and the new life He offers us. If you want to receive His new life, come to the altar of grace, remember Him, and be renewed”.

Suddenly, in that moment, the penny dropped, and everything I’d ever heard about how Jesus laid down His life for us while we were still sinners (see Romans 5:8) became much more than a Sunday School lesson: it became living, active Truth. I knew in that moment that I believed in Him, not just with my head, but with my heart, and knew that He had given His life, for me! As I held the bread soaked in grape juice (I grew up Methodist, and we used grape juice), I realized that from that moment on, my life would never be the same, because I would now have His life living inside of me.

In the years since that experience, I have never forgotten that term: altar of grace. It so perfectly describes what the Communion experience is: a chance to come to the altar, lay your burden of sin and shame down, and be restored to freedom, and take up Christ’s easy yoke (see Matthew 11:28-30). I love how The Message puts it:
28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

For me, it’s about knowing that anywhere I am can become an altar of grace: a graham cracker the bread, and a little bit of fruit punch the wine, as I again pour out my life in gratitude for Christ’s pouring out His life for me. I think about Charlie Hall’s worship song, Mystery, where he says, “Sweet Jesus Christ, my sanity/sweet Jesus Christ, my clarity/Bread of Heaven, broken for me/Cup of salvation, held out to drink/Jesus, Mystery, and I think it perfectly captures the meaning of the Sacrament. At its depth, it IS mystery, not something to be parsed through with the intellect (which cheapens it) but something to be lived from the heart. It’s about acknowledging my sin, my smallness, and opening my life to the greatness of His life and His sacrifice on my behalf. I can think of no better way to end this, than with the following prayer:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left
unto us a memorial of thy passion: Grant us, we beseech
thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and
Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of
thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer)

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. +

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