I took my seat behind the tall pulpit as the organ played quietly. The congregation was coming and I watched and prayed.
From my protected location, I saw her kneel at the altar. Her three boys found a place next to her. She folded her hands, glanced to her left and right, and raised her eyebrow in a form of unspoken instruction. The boys followed her silent command and interlaced their small fingers.
These three small boys, notorious for their rambunctious spirits and disrespectful tongues, now tightly closed their eyes and bowed their heads in an act of silent reverence. They peeked toward their mother, awaiting her next silent order. After an appropriate period, she raised her head. The boys mimicked her every move.
And then, something wonderful happened. This dear woman, divorced from her drunken and abusive husband, raising three sons who so strongly reflected their father in appearance and personality, put her thin arms around her boys and pulled them close.
She whispered into their ears and slowly picked up a small crust of bread from the altar. She held it for each to see. While I could not hear her words, I knew their meaning. She cradled the bread in the palm of her hand, as if it were a precious stone. In awe, she showed them its miniature size and its regal importance. Then she paused and waited for them to pick out their own royal morsel. Together, as if they had practiced, they lifted the bread to their mouths and ate the dry cracker.
She did not hurry them. She did not rush. As they swallowed, she closed her eyes in soundless meditation. The boys folded their hands, closed their eyes, and bowed their heads. They waited for their mother, calm and silent.
When she opened her eyes, they were moist with tears. Her left hand reached for her oldest son and pulled him even closer, if that was possible. Her right hand extended to the small plastic cups that lined the railing.
Once in her hand, she balanced it delicately in her fingers. The expression on her face told of the depth of her feelings while her whispered words told the rest of the story. Three heads leaned close to hers, straining to capture every word. When she had finished, she waited for these, her young men, to reach for their own symbol of God’s amazing grace. The youngest fumbled his juice and some spilled on the wooden bench and his hands. His mother reached for some tissue and carefully dabbed it up, never scolding or correcting.
My eyes suddenly filled with tears as I watched four cups held gently, lifted slowly, and shared solemnly. From a distance, I joined the four heads bowed in reverent unity.
In the hush of that moment, I looked up and met the eyes of so many in the congregation. They had long ago returned to their seats, leaving this mother to teach her sons the importance of this meal. Every member had come and gone, eating and drinking without thought of this banquet and its meaning. They, too, had tears in their eyes, as this small family turned from the altar, the mother’s hands still resting on her boy’s shoulders. As she led them to their seats, I wiped the tears from my eyes, and stood to face the church. Thanks to the instruction from this mother to her sons, I was changed. We all were changed. This feast would never be the same again and I was thankful.