Living the Grace-Filled Life: Erica Wellner on Communion
An outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace: this is the definition of a sacrament. And this is exactly what Communion was for me in the beginning months of 2013. I have long loved the sacrament of Communion even before going to seminary, but it was during my third year of seminary that this means of grace helped me stay connected to God when God seemed far off.
My grandfather died that January. While no death is easy, he was 96 years old and lived a good long life. It was my friend Jennifer’s death on February 19 of that year that put me and God on non-speaking terms for several months. I met Jennifer at a Christ summer camp we call MACD (Music, Arts, and Creative Drama). I began working with MACD in 2009, and I quickly learned that once you help with or attend MACD, you are a part of the family. Jennifer was a long-time member of the family, being a camper in her youth and coming to help as a counselor as an adult. Jennifer and I weren’t terribly close like she was with other members of the family, but her death hit me hard.
Jennifer was diagnosed with lung cancer toward the end of 2011. She never smoked a day in her life, so it came as a surprise to everyone. To make matters even harder, Jennifer was still a relatively new bride, being married only a few years, and had given birth to her firstborn about a year and half before her diagnosis. She had great faith and a wonderful team of prayer warriors surrounding her throughout her battle. We all had hoped that God would perform a miracle for her.
In 2012, I asked Jennifer if she would take over my Thursday night campfire devotional the following year as I would be away doing my CPE requirement for seminary. I had hoped and trusted that she would have an amazing testimony of how God had worked in and through her during her cancer battle. The night before her death, I even had a dream that God fully healed her, and I couldn’t wait to hear what kind of impact that testimony would have on the campers that summer. Instead, on the afternoon of February 19, 2013, I came back to the dorm from my afternoon classes, opened my Facebook, and saw tributes to Jennifer and what an inspiration she had been. I thought my dream was a sign, and in a way it was; she was whole again, but not on this side of eternity.
Jennifer’s death was the beginning of a three-month period when I was angry at God. While I was angry with God, he thankfully was never angry with me and continued to show up in my life even when I couldn’t see him. I was working in the Chapel Office at the time, planning and running our daily Communion services. I kept working through all this, but it wasn’t always easy. During this time period, Dr. Chris Kiesling asked me if the sacrament had any meaning to me, and while I was partaking every day, I was purely going through the motions. Communion meant nothing to me. My friends will tell you that they would be hard pressed to find someone who loves Communion as much as I do. So, to have it mean nothing was not only almost incomprehensible, but hard for them and myself to comprehend.
Yet, while Communion meant little to me at that time, it is always meaningful to God. It is the sacrament in which he meets us every time we come to the table, even when we aren’t ready to meet him. And that is exactly what happened to me. I couldn’t really, in my position, stop partaking of Communion during this time. It would not represent the Chapel Office well that their lead intern wasn’t partaking of Communion.
It was several months before I finally worked out my anger with God. But, being the gentleman that God is, he allowed me the time that I needed to work through everything. And without fully knowing it, I had several prayer warriors, friends and professors alike, who prayed for me during this time. But, it wasn’t just the prayers of others on my behalf that helped me thorough this difficult time. Without realizing it, God was working on me through the sacrament. While Communion held little to no meaning to me, this means of grace gave me the grace I so desperately needed during this time. I can’t explain exactly what happened during those encounters with Christ at his table, but by the time I worked through my anger, it was at the table that I found that God had never left my side. When I wanted nothing to do with him, Communion allowed him to communicate with me and meet with me. And it was through this means of grace that God drew me back to himself.
Since this difficult time in my life, Communion has held an even deeper meaning for me. And now that I have the great privilege of presiding over this sacrament, this means of grace each month. I pray that God will use this outward and visible sign to meet my people with his inward and invisible grace.