I’ve been reading Diana Butler Bass’s newest book, Grounded: Finding God in the World, this week. I’m considering making it required reading for a class I’m teaching at Hartford Seminary in the spring on “Vital Vintage Churches.” Toward the end of the book, she talks about community and how, in today’s culture, that “spirit of unity” is more likely to break out at a sporting event than at church. As an example, she cites being at a Washington Nationals game that was pretty boring because the home team was way ahead. The crowd eventually realized that a shutout was a real possibility, so they became more involved, cheering on the pitcher and pulling him through to the end, erupting in celebration when it was done as though they had pitched the game.
We had a great worship service last Sunday. It was congruently woven together, with the readings, modern lesson, hymns, anthem, prayer, and our guest preacher’s sermon all calling us to a deeper level of gratitude. Communion, of course, is called “Eucharist,” which means “thanksgiving.” I reminded the congregation that the common elements of bread and wine are transformed not by words of magic, but by the act of Jesus giving thanks. As the co-pastor and I served communion, our guest singer played the piano and sang. As the final people received the sacrament, he began to lead the congregation in a verse of that old hymn “How Great Thou Art.” The guest preacher then joined us at the altar, and the three of us served one another as the congregation rose to their feet and sang the chorus as a hymn of thanksgiving. When it was done, we were supposed to pray, but, instead, the congregation spontaneously burst into applause.
I have pastored churches for 43 years. During the last 30, I have served communion every Sunday, but I’d never had a congregation end communion with applause. It was GLORIOUS. It was church. Like shutouts, it, of course, can’t happen every Sunday, but when it does I sure want to be there!
Rev. Michael Piazza