I still remember my first holy communion.
I remember how my second-grade Catholic school teacher used Goldfish crackers in place of the host during our practice sessions, how I tenderly cradled the cracker in my hands, terrified I’d drop the real thing and ruin the whole carefully orchestrated event.
I remember the day itself, how I felt like a princess in my white flowered dress with the sash that tied at the waist and the tiny gold cross around my neck that my grandmother had given me to commemorate the occasion.
I remember the strange new taste of the paper-thin host on my tongue, how it stuck to the roof of my mouth as I scrambled back to my pew, relieved that my turn was over.
I remember the party that came afterward, with the host of aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents clamoring for pictures, the white frosted cross-shaped cake, and the pile of gifts I received for doing nothing but walking down the aisle of a church and eating a small circle of cardboard.
What I don’t remember is the date my first communion fell on. I don’t remember any of the conversations about the significance of the event I had with my teachers or parents leading up to or after it. To be honest, I don’t remember much aside from the few details I highlighted, and the only reason I remember those particulars—the cake, the dress, the presents—is because I was a child and those are the kinds of things a seven-year-old finds noteworthy.
By contrast, September 4, 2016 is a date I will not soon forget, a date that sits at the top of my list of important life events. It’s the date when I finally understood the significance behind the communion ritual I’d participated in more than two decades prior. September 4, 2016 is the day I was baptized as a completely willing, fully-comprehending adult who had lived enough life to understand from what, exactly, Jesus saved me.
I used to take issue with the term “saved.” It wasn’t a word I heard in Catholic church growing up, but one that registered on my radar when I first began attending non-denominational churches in my mid-20s. To be honest, the term made me inwardly cringe every time I heard someone say it; it seemed embarrassingly churchy. Back then, I thought faith was something decent people stayed quiet about and that born-again Christians with all their talk of salvation were certifiable nut-jobs who should be given a wide berth in case their weirdness was contagious. To say I didn’t get it would be an understatement.
But somewhere along the line, I began to put the pieces together. I took a look at the life I’d been given, bursting with too many blessings to mention, and contrasted it with the life I’d surely have been condemned to if Jesus hadn’t died for my sins. Even now, I shudder to think what my life would look like if I’d gotten what I truly deserved, if God had just let me keep going down the path I was on. Suddenly, “saved” seemed like the only appropriate word to describe what had happened to me.
The more I learn about Jesus, the clearer the whole picture becomes; it’s like I always had all the puzzle pieces but, until now, I just wasn’t trying very hard to put them together. Every psalm, every verse, every prayer I recited growing up but never really understood finally makes sense. Rather than a necessary chore that precedes the dismissal from church, communion is now an occasion I observe with the reverence of someone who knows exactly what it signifies. To me, the whole thing is utterly mind-blowing in its awesomeness.
To say I get it would be an understatement.
I realize all of this makes me sound embarrassingly churchy and there are people from my past life who will roll their eyes and think I’ve become one of those nut-jobs spouting off about salvation. For once, that doesn’t bother me at all. The risk of offending others is not nearly as significant as the risk of staying quiet. If even one other person finds their way to faith as a result of my testimony, any negative backlash will be worth it a thousand times over.
Right now, less than a year after the date of my baptism, I don’t need any help remembering what Jesus did for me. But as Pastor Keith said this past Sunday, we humans have short memories. We swear to our friends, boast on social media, and truly convince ourselves that we’ll “never forget.” Until we do. At this moment in time, it seems ridiculous to think I’d ever have trouble remembering Jesus’ sacrifice, but I know eventually I will. I’m human. I grow complacent and take things for granted. I forget even when I swear I won’t.
Which is why it’s so fortunate that once a month, a tangible reminder in the form of a tiny square of bread and a thimbleful of wine is placed in the palm of my hand. That each time I receive communion, I am surrounded by people who believe the same truth as me, people who are also doing their best not to forget. And that every time we share a meal in his memory, I am given the chance to remember what he did for me all over again.
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