The minister was scrolling through his iPad to find the next portion of the Sunday service. As an old-school Lutheran hearing sermons thundering from technology’s prompts makes me tilt my head and wondering where we are headed in the future. Will we have a chip inserted under our skin that will infuse our brains with lectures on moral behavior? Will this happen weekly, monthly, or for the elite Christmas and Easter church attendees, just twice a year while wearing really spiffy clothes?
Sorry. Just like in church, my mind wandered there for a bit. Why is it that when you try to be on your best behavior some sniggling little memory side-steps into your thoughts and refuses to leave? And why is it the harder you try to suppress the oft-funny recollection, the more it bubbles up and into violent, silent, giggles? Hiding as best you can, it’s inevitable that you’ll soon be wiping tears away. Most people think you’re deeply moved by the message and nod with appreciation, but your husband knows you’re just being bad and he gives you the death stare. I’m just saying I’ve heard this happens. To other people.
For example, last Sunday the program was winding down and getting near the time for communion. Our church uses the tincture method where you are handed a piece of unleavened bread which you dip into a chalice of either white grape juice or red wine and then go back to your seat. It’s fast, easy, and basically fool proof.
The problem is that a couple of years ago, as we were ushered out of our row to go up for communion, my husband stepped back so I could go in front of him. (He’s very gallant that way.) Now I swear this didn’t happen, but he claims I hip-checked him into the next set of seats as I made the corner. Seriously I think if I had made the full body contact he infers, the type that is now illegal in hockey, I would have known. Nonetheless he insists he was sent staggering into the unsuspecting arms of several very surprised parishioners as I sashayed up the aisle. Of course, every single week as he steps back now, I get the giggles. I can’t help it.
In another example concerning communion, I was thinking back to when I was a child and the adults, or those old enough to be confirmed, would go to the front and kneel around the minister. One by one he would touch the top of their head, administer a wafer of some Styrofoam substance while murmuring the sacrament, and then would come back around with the common cup of wine. Germs had not been invented back then.
Soooo imagine my surprise when my family was on a trip to Slovakia in 2010, and the church we attended on the first Sunday gave communion in the same manner as my childhood church. My daughter watched as the parishioners went up in small groups and knelt at the altar. She started frowning. Leaning into me she whispered, “How do you know when to open your mouth so he can put in the bread? I mean you don’t want it hanging open for too long, right? Or what if you wait too long and your lips make a dry smack just as he arrives? Mom! What if I accidentally lick him when I stick my tongue out for the bread?”
By this time I was in tears because I was dry giggling so hard. I wondered if a Slovakian minister had ever been communion-licked by an over-eager Minnesotan before. My daughter then wondered about the common-cup wine service. From our vantage it looked like the cup was placed to the mouth and you were then pretty much forced to sort of slurp/suck a moderate amount upwards. What if it dribbled down one’s dress? What if you took too much, and the minister had to pull it away with a certain look of concern on his face? What if the person next to you didn’t look like someone you wanted to share a herpes sore with?
Her questions were sound, but it was all I could do to walk up the aisle when our turn came without doubling over with laughter. We knew we could not make eye contact with each other at any time or it would be over. Done. Diplomatic disaster.
I had my own issues once we arrived at the altar. It turns out the kneeling ledge was made for much skinnier knees than mine. I kept feeling like I was about to slide off the cushioned ledge and down the step like a wet spitball slaloms a chalkboard. I imagined my skin would make a scrrrreeeaaach sound while the organist tried to play louder to cover my shame. Surely the minister would notice I was a foot shorter than the others kneeling for communion if it happened.
While none of the above scenarios played out—whew!—the memories come back often, and at the quietest and most inappropriate of moments. Do you know how hard it is for me not to think about licking the minister as he hands me the communion bread? Fortunately, I believe God has a great sense of humor. Laughter in his house is a soul-song I sing joyously.