Communion in 1866
Scheduled for June 22
year was 1866; the place was Richmond, Virginia. The citizens of the capitol
of the defeated Confederacy were still trying to recover from the devastation
of war. Among many other problems, they were struggling with the question of
the role and relationship of the newly freed slaves -- a struggle which is not
a fashionable church in Richmond the minister was offering Communion. In this
particular house of worship Communion was offered somewhat differently than we
serve it. When the time came, the minister would stand at the front of the
church, behind an altar rail. Those wishing Communion would rise from their
seats, a few at a time, come forward and kneel at the altar. The minister
would hand them Communion. Usually those in the front came forward first, but
it was not uncommon for some to remain longer than others, deep in meditation.
One rule was observed: Communion could not be given to a solitary person -- at
least two must be at the rail. This was to preserve the spirit of Matthew
the middle of this procession, from the back of the sanctuary, a former slave
stood up and strode forward. The minister was taken aback. This was a “white”
church; racial separation was the firm belief of virtually all the members.
This was also the Lord’s Supper. The minister hesitated. The man was at the
rail alone; he was not obliged to serve Communion to a solitary worshiper.
What was he to do? All eyes in the congregation were on him.
this moment another worshiper rose from his seat. He was an elderly man, with
gray hair, but tall and erect in his bearing -- military, we would say. He
walked down the aisle and without a word knelt by the “man of color” (as the
phrase is today) to take Communion. His example decided the minister’s
action; Communion was served to both men together.
often forget that Communion is also proclamation. (1 Cor 11:26 NIV) For
whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's
death until he comes. We forget that by this act we proclaim Christ, and all
that he taught, to all who observe. It is easy to do so here in the Lord’s
house. Do we proclaim it in the world as well? Indeed, do we even proclaim it
in the Lord’s house? Examine yourself; does it feel uncomfortable to you when
you see people of other races and color worshipping with you? Is it OK for the
missionary to reach other races -- as long as the other races don’t reach you?
Or do you rejoice that Christ died for all, and that in His church we at last
can put aside the feelings that have divided his people?
Do not think for a moment that your thoughts and
actions are of no account in this. This is not the affair of the minister
alone. The guiding example came not from the pulpit but from the pew. One man
(or woman) can make a difference in God’s economy.
The minister in our story was probably a man of
faith, but he was unprepared for action. The man in the pew was not. Not
surprising, that -- his name was Robert E. Lee.