by Becca Ehrlich
Reading: John 15:9-12
[Jesus said:] “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
I was just a few weeks into my very first call as a pastor of a small-town congregation. Every Sunday morning before worship, the Altar Guild (congregation members who did behind the scenes work to set up things for worship) would prepare the bread, wine, and grape juice for Holy Communion. This preparation always included having one gluten-free cracker ready, placed underneath the bread, for one specific congregation member: a 20-year-old woman with Down’s Syndrome who maintained a gluten-free diet.
This particular Sunday, I was distributing Communion as usual, giving a piece of bread to each person that came up. When the woman needing the gluten-free cracker was next, I reached under the bread to get the cracker.
It wasn’t there.
I frantically groped my hand under the bread, hoping I just missed the cracker. I didn’t. Either the Altar Guild member who had prepared Communion that morning had forgotten it, or we had run out of gluten-free crackers. Either way, it wasn’t there, and the woman standing in front of me was expecting Communion, with half of the congregation waiting behind her.
Not wanting to give her the bread with gluten and make her sick, I quickly explained to her that I didn’t have the cracker right now and that she could take the wine or grape juice until I figured out what happened. Confused, she went to the Communion server next to me, drank, and went back to her seat.
While I continued to serve Communion to the congregation, I looked over and saw that the young woman was crying. I felt awful; there wasn’t anything I could do until Communion was mostly done, and she was incredibly upset. Another congregation member went to sit with her and comfort her in the meantime.
As I was wrapping up Communion distribution, the congregation member who sat with the young woman came up to me. “She told me she’s able to take a bite of gluten without becoming sick,” she said.
I immediately went over to the young woman in the pew. “Can I give you the bread for Communion?” I asked her. She nodded vigorously, tears streaming down her face.
As I said “The Body of Christ, given for you” and handed her the bread, her facial expression drastically changed. It was a look of pure joy. Now that she was finally able to fully participate, she could experience the joy of receiving Jesus.
This young woman came to worship, week after week, because she felt the love and joy of Jesus through worship and in our worshiping community. In that moment of receiving Communion, her joy of being able to worship Jesus was palpable.
At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the disciples that we are created to live in love—to live in Jesus’ love for us, and to love one another. When we live in love, we experience joy. Even when things don’t go according to plan, when we experience God’s love and care for one another with love, we can access a joy that is deeper than anything happening around us. We can experience God’s joy for us.
How are you experiencing God’s joy this month, even when things don’t go as planned?
Becca Ehrlich is an ELCA pastor. She blogs about minimalism from a Christian perspective at www.christianminimalism.com and her book, Christian Minimalism: Simple Steps for Abundant Living, was released in May 2021. She is passionate about helping folks connect with God and live more simply, in ways that make sense for their own life contexts.