I sat quietly after communion with tears filling my eyes and slipping down my face. Today I had the sacred privilege of taking communion with a beautiful older woman suffering from dementia. I could not help but think of my father who died in 2006 after seven years of struggle with the disease. I never got to take communion with him after he became ill. I lived too far away to see him more than once or twice a year. I wondered if anyone did—if after the onset of his dementia he was able to participate in the shared meal with other believers. I was brought to tears because I would have loved to experience that with him. I was brought to tears because I miss him.
But sharing communion alongside a beautiful older woman with dementia brought me to tears for much more profound reasons than my own grief and loss. This experience of sharing the body and blood of Christ together from such different places in life was a powerful reminder to me of just how leveling the table is that Jesus set for us. At this table there are no titles, no credentials, no superior intelligence or any other hierarchy. There is only the table set for us with the gifts of God for all who are willing to come with nothing but their sin and gratefulness. And this reality—coming together with only our sin and our gratefulness—is what allows us to experience the presence of Christ in the deepest way. With all our sin that stands against us, the emptiness of our hands, the utter bankruptcy of any of our earnings, opens our hearts and makes room for us to experience the fullness of Christ who is completely for us. An older woman being stripped of memory and a younger woman being stripped of pride together hearing the words, “the body of Christ given for you,” and “the blood of Christ poured out for you.”
This precious woman could only express in minimal words her delight in participating in the meal but her serene face and her sweetness of spirit touched me deeply. And her willingness to go to the table with me—a stranger to her—was also humbling. She took my hand so willingly and so lovingly. Together we remembered—each as much as we were able—Christ’s death on our behalf. All my seminary education, all my years of preaching and teaching about the meaning and significance of the sacrament of communion and this beautiful sweet woman suffering from dementia taught me so much more.
The table that is Christ’s is the great leveler. Rich and poor, strong and weak, brilliant and simple, educated and uneducated, young and old, of every tribe and nation are all welcomed to the table because of who Christ is and what Christ has done for us. Nothing more.