Clapping at communion: How bread and wine became symbols of hope

Published 24 May 2018  |  

One of my dear friends and a fellow priest recently retired. He asked if I would take over leading communion at a large care home in his parish. I said yes, of course.

But half an hour into a traffic jam I began to wonder. It had been a hugely hectic day and the transport problems were compounded by nowhere to park near the home. A 25-minute walk in the rain added to the gloom.

Sometimes the sheer sadness of a care home seems to engulf me – the brutality of what a combination of life and age does to people. I think of what life had been like for the people in here. I wonder about their times with their children and the holidays they had and all the joy. And then there's me with my travelling communion kit to minister to them.

On this day we had seven residents who came. Most of them were in wheelchairs and only one was able to talk. I handed out the service order and I noticed that people seemed to be following it. We did a rousing hymn – unaccompanied by instruments but joined in with by the care home helpers. As we sang 'What a Friend we Have in Jesus' I began to feel something akin to euphoria. It would be hard to explain to a non-believer.

And then I took round the bread and the wine and took my time. Most couldn't take the wine, but they managed the bread. Finally I gave a blessing and we stayed silent for a while.

It was then that something amazing happened. In this room that was full of people who could no longer speak, in this care home where people lived who could no longer live at home, something happened. First one of the guests and then all of them clapped. They could not speak, but they could clap and they could smile. It was as glorious as the sound of angels clapping.

And in that glorious applause I heard the sound of hope beyond hope. It was a gentle clap against the calls for euthanasia, against what society sees as life that is no longer worth living. It was truly one of the most beautiful noises I have ever heard and it made me glad. I said sorry to God for being so grumpy on my way over to the home and thanked him that life is so very, very precious.

Where there is life there is hope, especially with the God who knows what it is like to be rendered immobile and voiceless.

Rev Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214

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