For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. (1 Cor. 11:26)
Several years ago, when our family attended another church, I was writing a weekly devotion based upon a new verse of Scripture each week. Just before Christmas, the Lord put 1 Corinthians 11:26 on my heart. At the time, I had no idea what I was supposed to say about it. I am certainly not a Bible scholar, and I was in no position to teach anything, let alone the sacrament of Communion! I prayed all week, trusting that God would reveal what the message for that week on Communion was supposed to be. Faithful as always, God revealed the answer to me as I stood in the rain one evening.
Communion is a practice that reminds us how Christ gave his life for us and what it means. But this verse also tells us that it is a practice that means something to the outside world, as well. When we take Communion, we proclaim the death of Christ. We tell the world about the death and resurrection that gave us life.
Our church at the time had been blessed with a wonderful Children’s Ministries Director. Diane had faithfully led for a number of years, alongside her husband, Jerry. Sadly, Diane was diagnosed with cancer and fought the long, hard battle of cancer for several years. She suffered the ravages of chemo and the ups and downs of the battle.
Her story was all too familiar to me. My younger sister died of breast cancer just two and a half years prior to Diane. Her battle was the same: chemo/radiation/surgery, a reprieve, a resurgence of cancer and the ravages of way too much chemo, followed by her death. Diane had been looking to retire for a while, and the cancer made that move more necessary. She retired from her position a few months before Christmas that year, and we all loved and missed her deeply. She had rocked and protected and raised up all of our babies, and we still looked forward to seeing her in children’s wing when she felt well enough to attend church. Jerry attended to Diane and her care as faithfully as he had helped her in ministry.
In early December, our pastor announced that Diane had stopped chemo. Now, those of you that have been through cancer know that is not a good sign. Stopping chemo means either that the chemo is just too toxic and the body can’t tolerate anymore, or it is ineffective and the body is succumbing to cancer. I was heartbroken.
Some of the pastors, deacons, and other folks from our church made plans to visit Diane and Jerry the very next night. They didn’t want to wait until the normal Saturday visit to take them Communion and visit with Diane. They invited anyone who wanted to join them to meet at Jerry and Diane’s house at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday to sing Christmas carols and pray while two pastors and two deacons went in to give Communion to the dear couple.
I desperately wanted to go. However, my husband had just left for California on business, not to mention I’d suffered a nauseating migraine all day, my five-year-old was complaining of a stomach ache, and the wind was howling as rain poured down. Still, I determined to go, taking my sick five-year-old and my two-year-old—praying the whole time that I wasn’t pushing myself and my children too far.
At the appointed time, my kids were in the car with a movie and popcorn (all signs of belly ache gone) on a quiet cul-de-sac in front of Jerry and Diane’s house. Adults stood in the yard under umbrellas. Amazingly, it had warmed to 58 degrees. After we began to sing Christmas carols, the pastor led us in prayer and asked us to surround the house and pray in small groups. I went and stood at the corner of the cozy house with my hand on a wooden fence post, praying for mercy, comfort, strength, and grace. As I stood there, my hand growing cold, I thought of Diane inside taking what would likely be her last Communion. I thought of Jerry sharing Communion with his dear wife for the last time. And 1 Corinthians 11:26 rang in my head.
Facing death itself, this couple took the meal that proclaimed Christ’s death. Feeling death’s presence, they welcomed and celebrated the One who had conquered death. In a body broken by cancer, Diane partook of the broken body of her Savior. And as she drank the cup, she remembered her Redeemer and the salvation he provided. Together, they acknowledged Diane’s blessed eternity with the Lord, which would begin all too soon as far as the rest of us were concerned.
When the Communion had finished, the pastors asked us to go to the side of the house where there was a big picture window. They asked us to sing again so that Diane and Jerry could really hear us. As the rain poured down, we sang. Diane waved at us as she picked out faces she recognized. In pairs, we slowly walked up to the glass of a nearby door to see Diane through the glass and to be seen one last time. I blew her a kiss and touched my heart to tell her I loved her. I then stepped into her backyard and wept.
And then, my friends, an amazing thing happened. The rain stopped. Children emerged from the cards and were held up to the big picture window for Diane to see. Their tiny hands waved at her, their faces pressed into the glass. The little ones that she had loved so dearly and ministered to so faithfully were there for her as well. I took my kids out of the car and to the window. When Diane saw my youngest, the one she welcomed as a tiny infant from Africa, her mouth formed an “Oh!” and she pressed her hand to her heart. Both my kids blew her kisses.
I cried the whole way home. It was so beautiful and so tragic. I loved it, and I hated it. But I knew that the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings had been present there that night, represented in the sacrament of Communion, and living and present in the hearts of his people. His love was flowing freely and beautifully, the way it is supposed to—even in the presence of suffering and loss.
As we enter another Christmas season, celebrating the birth of our precious Savior, I pray that we will may celebrate Communion with an intimate understanding of what and who represents. Let us proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again. And please, Lord Jesus, come.
This article was originally published in December 2018.