Christmas Eve: Communion And Reunion
I love Christmas . . .
I love all that is so beautiful and inspiring about our annual observance of Christmas. I find it fascinating to note that even those who make no profession of faith or no practice of our Christian religion still, come Christmas, get caught up in the mood of Christmas and are made to feel, at least temporarily, the values of the spiritual life and the claims of God upon us. However, for the more thoughtful, the celebration of the Savior’s birth can be a profoundly moving and shaping experience in their lives. That seems especially true to me at Christmas Eve communion for, if one thinks deeply about both the true meaning of Christmas and the true meaning of communion, then one is bound to encounter the reality of Jesus Christ—and thus, I hope and pray, come to know and love this Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
A true Christmas story . . .
Several years back, a minister in New York had just finished seminary and received a call to his first church. It was a small dying congregation in the midst of a decaying area of Brooklyn. The young minister and his wife arrived in October, and they could hardly believe the challenge with which they were confronted. The church was very run down and needed lots of work. So they set a goal to try to refurbish the church as much as possible with their own hands. They wanted to have everything ready by Christmas Eve because they wanted to have a service of renewal on Christmas Eve. It was their intent to invite the people of the neighborhood to come to worship on Christmas Eve in the newly restored church. So day after day they worked long hard hours repairing pews, scrubbing floors, plastering and painting walls. On December the 18th they were actually ahead of schedule and just about finished. They prepared fliers and circulated them all over the neighborhood inviting people to the Christmas Eve service. Then on December the 19th a driving rainstorm hit the area and lasted for two days. On the morning of December the 21st the pastor went to check on the church and was heartsick at what he found. The roof had leaked causing a large area of plaster to fall from the front wall of the sanctuary. It left a gaping, ugly hole 6 feet by 8 feet behind the central pulpit, beginning about head high and moving up toward the ceiling. It looked awful. The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor and started to think about how he could make the front of the sanctuary at least halfway presentable for Christmas Eve. No answer was forthcoming. With gathering despair he headed toward home. As he was leaving the church, he noticed that a local business near by was having a flea market type sale for charity. He wandered over to look, and one of the items he saw on display was a large, beautiful handmade ivory-colored crocheted tablecloth with exquisite handwork, gorgeous colors, and a lovely cross embroidered right at the very center of the cloth. Suddenly it dawned on him that that wonderful piece of cloth was the perfect size to cover up the hole in the front wall of the church sanctuary. So he bought it, and he walked back toward the church. By this time, the temperature had plunged and the rain had turned to snow, heavy snow. He noticed an older woman, running from the opposite direction, trying to catch the bus. Too late, she missed it. The pastor knew it would be 45 minutes before the next bus came along, and so he invited the woman to come in and wait on the back pew inside the warm church. The pastor then proceeded to get out a ladder, climbed up the ladder, and began to hang the cloth he had purchased on the front wall of the sanctuary. He hoped that it would wind looking like a wall tapestry. Sure enough, it was perfect! The cloth covered the hole completely, the cross stood out in the center, and the whole thing was stunningly beautiful. He was so relieved.
Now, it was at that point that the pastor, still up on the ladder, noticed this older woman walking down the center aisle toward him. She was staring intently at the cloth he had just hung on the wall. She looked shocked. Suddenly she said, “Where did you get that tablecloth?” He told her. She then said, “Would you please look down at the lower right hand corner and see if the initials ‘E.B.G.’ are crocheted there?” The pastor bent down on the ladder—and, yes, the initials were there. The woman began to cry. The pastor hurried down from the ladder and rushed to her side. He said, “Tell me what’s wrong.” The woman brushed away her tears and proceeded to explain that the initials were actually her initials, that she had made the tablecloth 55 years before in Austria. She explained that before the second World War she and her husband had been well-to-do people in Austria and that one year for Christmas she had made the table cloth for her husband. It was one of their most cherished possessions. “But then,” she said, “the Nazis came.” She was forced to leave. Her husband intended to follow her the next week, but in the meantime, she was captured, sent to prison, and never saw her husband or her home again. After the war, she made it to America but she never remarried. She held fast to the memory of the husband she had loved and lost. Well having heard that amazing story, the pastor immediately volunteered to give her the tablecloth. “No,” she said, “No, please keep it. It looks so beautiful there.” The pastor then insisted on driving her home. It was, after all, the least he could do to show his appreciation.
Three nights later they re-opened the church with a Christmas Eve service. The church was packed. People from all over the neighborhood turned out. The music and the spirit were great. After the service with genuine excitement, the pastor spoke to people at the door as they were leaving. Many of them said that they would return on Sunday. But when the last person had departed, the pastor went back into the Sanctuary to begin closing up. To his surprise he noticed that one person was still there, an older man still sitting in the pew. He seemed to be staring at the cloth hanging on the front wall. The pastor asked him if he was okay. The man responded by saying, “Yes, I’m fine, but it’s so strange that cloth hanging on the front wall looks exactly like a cloth my late wife made for me many years ago when we lived in Austria.” He then told the pastor how the Nazis had come; how his wife had fled for safety; how he was to follow later; how he was then arrested and placed in a concentration camp. He went on to say that when, at last, he was liberated from the concentration camp he had searched and searched for his wife, but had never been able to find her. The pastor then asked the man if he would be willing to go with him for a ride in his car. The man was puzzled, but he said, “Yes, I suppose so, I’m all alone this Christmas Eve.” And so the pastor then proceeded to drive this older man to the same building where he had taken the woman three days earlier. He helped the man climb the several flights of stairs up to the woman’s apartment. The pastor knocked on the door, and then he just stepped back and watched the most amazing Christmas reunion you could ever imagine . . .
You know it occurs to me that that is what the miracle of Christmas Eve communion is all about—an amazing reunion of love. You see through the miracle of Christmas, we are reunited with God through Jesus Christ—for the birth of Jesus in the stable brings God home to us. And through the miracle of communion, we are embraced by God through Jesus Christ—for the death of Jesus on the cross takes us home to God. Yes, it is through the miracle of Christmas Eve communion that we can come to know and to love our Savior and our Lord, Jesus Christ.
My beloved people, I wish for you a very merry Christmas!