Giving people communion—as any clergy will tell you—is one of the blessed gifts of ministry. People come to receive the life of God in all of their humanness. They stream to the altar, the hopeful and harried, the world-beaters and the unemployed, the believers and skeptics alike. I walk down the line and here are all these upraised, empty hands, ready for the divine life, or as ready as they’re ever going to get.
Yesterday I came upon a family, a little girl sandwiched between her mother and father. I delivered a piece of bread into the mother’s palm and said, “the Body of Christ the Bread of Heaven.” I was about to communicate the little girl when she said, quite loudly, “What kind of bread is this?”
Immediately the mother put a hand on the girl’s shoulder and shushed her. Kate must be seven or eight, just that age when a little girl feels plucky—she knows she’s simply asking a plain ordinary question and no one should be scandalized. Unbowed, she looked up at me for an answer, her right hand resting in her left, waiting to receive this strange gift I hold in my hand.
Maybe she actually heard the opening prayer, “Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us and we in him . . . .” I don’t know. Maybe the bread she saw in her mother’s hands—a white wafer thin as construction paper—looked nothing like sandwich bread.
“What kind of bread is this?” I stopped and smiled, almost laughed. Kate was only asking what the ancient Israelites asked when the miracle bread, manna, fell from heaven. In Hebrew the word manna means “what is it?” Out of the mouths of babes, I thought. The child is asking the most important question. Everyone knows to be silent at communion, except this junior prophetess. Kate is asking on behalf of us all, What is it?
I leaned down so Kate could hear me. “This is God-bread.” I pressed a mystery into her rosy palm and said, “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.” She smiled and she ate.
I hope I will always ask the Kate question when the Eucharist is offered to me. I hope I can find the child within me, the one who can say, manna? I want to be that curious, that eager, (that plucky!). I want to keep asking, “What kind of bread is this?” Not so that I will understand the mystery, but so that I may know and keep knowing it.