What Velma Taught Me about Communion

“We can have communion together,” I said to Bill over the phone. We were discussing meeting at the Alzheimer’s group home where his wife of over 60 years, Velma, was a resident.

“I don’t think she will understand what she’s doing,” Bill warned.

“She’s had communion many times before, right?” I asked, knowing they had been committed Christians for a very long time.

“Oh, yes,” he said.

“Then I’m certain the Lord wouldn’t mind if she took communion, even if she doesn’t fully grasp what she’s doing.”

A few hours later we were gathered around a small circular table in the dining area. Velma sat there, a blank look on her face, as I set out the little cubes of bread and small cups of juice in front of each of us.

I gave a prayer of preparation. As I tried to place the cube of bread in Velma’s hand, I repeated the words of Jesus, “This is my body broken for you; eat this in remembrance of me.”

She clenched her hand, rejecting the bread. “She often resists eating,” Bill said. Then, before partaking of his own bread, he got up from his chair, took her bread and gently but firmly pushed it between her pursed lips. “Chew now,” he said softly under his breath.

The same with the cup. “This represents my blood shed for you. Drink this in remembrance of me.” Bill became Velma’s cup bearer and put it to her lips, cupping his hand under her chin as he did so. Lips tightly shut eventually gave way enough for the liquid to seep past. She swallowed.

I repeated the words of a song certainly familiar to her, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,” and then the words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” A closing prayer and our time of communion was concluded.

As I left the Alzheimer’s home I realized I had been on holy ground. During my years of pastoral ministry I’ve led in the celebration of Communion countless times, both before the public assembly of the congregation and in the more intimate setting of a shut-in’s home, a hospital room, a nursing home or, as in this case, a group home.

In sharing Communion I remind all of us participants of how the celebration speaks of God’s grace through the giving of His Son and the gift of salvation. This particular celebration of Communion, however, revealed God’s grace to me as never before. Eat and drink in remembrance of me, Jesus had said. But Velma could no longer remember. No matter; the elements of bread and cup were given to her in love by her husband and pastor anyway. We remembered for her.

Velma unknowingly gave her pastor a fresh experience of the Lord’s Supper that afternoon. When we find ourselves before the bread and the cup of the Lord we can fool ourselves into believing we have a great hunger and deep thirst for God. But from heaven’s perspective we have a meager desire at best and are too easily satisfied.

Still, God comes to us, even when our hands are clenched against receiving more of His bread of life and our lips pressed tightly against receiving more of His new wine. He is lovingly insistent we partake of more of Him. That’s our God, full of grace and mercy! I learned that from sharing communion with Velma.