What kind of people participate in the communion of the saints? I look around at the portrayals of saints – they are painted-on-glass, flat, beautiful, unmoveable and unpassioned. Their only flaws are made by those who describe them – a missing line or a blurred splotch of paint, a mistake of illustration only. And they are unreachable by me, untouchable, clear and cold and perfect. Worthy of admiration, perhaps. Saints, even. But nowhere do they describe me and my own pursuit of saint-ness.
I am imperfect and broken, unable to contain all the pieces that shift around and drop unexpectedly. I no sooner pull together my thoughts on one topic when an unexpected situation distracts me, scatters me, gets me pointed in twelve directions. I compare myself to the painted saints in the windows and I know that I grow ever more separate from them. The more clear and transparent I become, the more I see my flaws and awkward parts, my inconsistencies, the gaps between what I say and what I do. The closer I get to touching a glass saint, the farther I feel from him. When I am called to attend to communion I picture the strong blues and brilliant reds of the saints, stern faces, piety and grace, stoicism as the mark of true faith. (If I could just stop feeling and thinking, I could be a much better Christian, it seems. All the me-ness of me gets in the way of being a good believer.)
The communion table is not for the glossy saints, however. It is a place for people in all stages of life. It is not only the perfect and the serene who are invited. (Oh, they’ll be there, surrounded by their followers.) But it is the broken-hearted, the heavy-laden, the weary traveler, the one who cannot take another step but must still continue their journey who are invited to be part of the table.
I thought of that as I approached the communion table this week. The communion of saints includes me, because the saints are really like me – ordinary men and women, perhaps caught in a sudden illumination that shows their glimmer of faith, but people who live their lives in darkness and obscurity. The table is open to those who follow – or even those who just want to follow – Jesus. Sometimes we follow because we are full and want to share. Sometimes we follow because we are empty and cold and lost. He does not set a rule of perfection to participate. He just says “Come.”