In 1997, we had a young man named "Timothy" living with us. He was from South Korea and attending college at UALR. As Christmas approached, he and another international - a girl from Honduras named Jenny -wanted to attend a late night Christmas Eve service as this was customary in their countries. Our church didn't have one but a small Methodist church nearby did. So on the evening of the 24th, Timothy and I picked up Jenny and headed to the service which started at 11 p.m.
It was stunningly beautiful -with candles at the ends of every pew and poinsettias all across the front of the church, interspersed with yet more candles. I loved everything about the service and when it came time to take communion, I felt comfortable doing that even though I wasn't a member of the church.
As that part of the service started, an usher moved from pew to pew to indicate when the next row should stand. As he moved from place to place, people filed up to the platform in a steady flow. Most everyone went up but a few stayed in their seats. When he got to our row, Timothy was on the end and Jenny was sitting next to him. I was third in line.
I asked Timothy if he was going up and he just looked at me and said, "No."
I told him it was okay, the pastor had said it was open communion which meant everyone could participate.
He looked a little stressed and repeated the one word, "No!"
I still thought he didn't understand the English phrase "open communion" because I knew he wanted to do communion. Finally I gave up and just told him I was going to go.
And I did.
The pastor was very kind and when he got to me (we were all kneeling around an altar rail that formed a square), he asked me if he had served me. I said he hadn't; he did. And everything was fine.
Until I got back in my seat, sat down, and then saw Timothy and Jenny rise and go forward! At that point, I realized that earlier, the usher had indicated with his hand to Timothy that we were to stay seated but I hadn't seen the hand signal! Simply put, it hadn't been our turn yet - our row had been the cutoff point for the first group! Timothy understood this but his English wasn't good enough for him to explain it to me. So he just kept saying, "No!'; I totally misunderstood and went walking down the aisle after the pastor had already started serving communion, not realizing that I had messed up.
Until I returned to my seat and then, to my mortification, I saw the usher raise his hand and everyone on my row (except for me!) got up and walked to the platform. And everyone behind me got up and walked forward as well... Which left, um, me - sticking out like a sore thumb /= It was one of those times when I just wanted to bond with the floor underneath my pew. Seriously.
Little did I know that would not be my last time to embarrass myself in that church:) (Another day... another blog...)
Thankfully, as we took Jenny back home, two things helped ease my discomfort. First, we could all laugh about it! Sooooo thankful God invented laughter! I don't think I could survive without it.
And then my two young friends decided that we would sing Christmas carols in three languages on the way back to Jenny's house. At first, I really didn't want to because I don't sing very well. But they convinced me to do it and I'm so glad that they did. We chose a carol that all of us knew - Silent Night - and then watched the clock on the dash intently because Timothy insisted that we start singing precisely at midnight. And that's what we did - at the stroke of twelve, Korean, Spanish, and English words sans melody filled the car. It was wonderful - for the first time, I realized how Christmas transcends language, culture, time and space. We continued to sing one song after another in our native languages until Jenny was safely home. However, for me it wasn't long enough....
The Bible promises that someday there will be people from every tongue, tribe and nation in Heaven. That Christmas Eve in 1997 was a foretaste of coming attractions - the best, as Corrie ten Boom would say - is truly yet to be!