Unholy Communion

Brother Cobb rose from behind the wide pulpit. Stepped out before the covered Lord’s Table.

Mildred started listening. About time that heathen shut up. If I wanted to hear that rubbish I could turn on TV or read a trashy novel. Smiled, ready to receive another blessing. Communion always made her feel worthy inside. As Momma always said, “It’s the Lord’s way of giving Himself to those who have chosen the right path.”

“Thank you, Brother Francis, for such an inspirational talk,” Brother Cobb exclaimed in his radio preaching voice. “I’m sure the rest of the congregation is as anxious to hear about your journey to salvation as I am.”

Sure, Mildred jeered inside, like I’m waiting for my hemorrhoids to flare up again. Chuckled into her handkerchief. Snorted.

“Now,” the Reverend Cobb continued touching his fingertips together prayer-like before him, “we will end our first revival service as usual with the Lord’s Supper. But instead of our traditional closed Communion, we are extending our invitation to everyone. Remember this is for tonight only because of extra special circumstances. I’m sure the Church and Our Lord will approve. Brother Francis will assist me.”

What? Humph! Pish and pshaw! Mildred screamed inside. Eyes stretched wide. Mentally shot up from her pew, cane slashing out wild. Open Communion! That’s totally inappropriate and won’t be tolerated! It’s against every doctrine of the Southern Baptist Church! Who does Alex think we are, plebeian Methodists? Has he gone soft in his old age? Become a bleeding-heart liberal? Also took pride in keeping up with the current slang.

It’s utterly insane! Francis Paul Day shouldn’t be helping either! He’s a ravenous wolf wrapped in the robe of Jesus! I bet he ain’t even been immersed! His hands will burn touching the Elements! Does Alex want me to write another letter to the Executive Committee? I swear I’ll telephone the Chairman. This time he’s gone too far. Bit her bottom lip. Wagged her head back and forth inside. Felt her blood pressure bubbling.

Last year Brother Cobb wanted to invite a black speaker to the pulpit, which was quickly overruled. Enough is enough. There are things you just don’t do. That won’t ever be Christian. It didn’t matter if that man was a missionary. The Coloreds have their own church and we have ours!

The organ moaned softly. Again Harriet wore her slippers, her church shoes kicked under the bench, but Mildred didn’t recognize the melody. She always plays ‘Let Us Break Bread Together On Our Knees’ during Communion. Even with most of the notes wrong, I know that tune. They are changing everything! Humph! Pish and pshaw! No telling what this music is, probably a beer drinking song to make that heathen feel at home. Mildred pressed her palm against her chest, heart thumping. Closed her eyes trying to remember how “Roll Out the Barrel” went.

Brother Cobb stepped to the east end of the linen covered table. Francis Paul Day stood opposite him. They slowly lifted the cloth. Folded it back to reveal the Elements in their sparkling silver containers.

Long ago, the Church members drank from a single chalice, but Mildred’s mother fussed. Tiny glasses were bought. The uncouth call shot glasses. During her final months, Mildred’s mother frequently relived the conflict in shouts. Mildred shivered inside remembering. Like the rest of her speech then, this too was vulgarized. Poor Momma!

“I told them I don’t give a (consummation expletive) if it is the Almighty’s cleansing blood in that (Lord’s name in vain expletive) glass, my lips ain’t touching nothing every redneck man and (female dog expletive) woman in this here (h-e-double l hockey sticks) hole have stuck their (female private part expletive) eating or (male private part expletive) sucking tongue inside.”

“I ain’t getting no (Lord’s name in vain expletive) cold or (venereal disease slang) or any other (feces expletive adverb form) white trash disease nobody knows the cure for drinking after everybody. Most of these (copulating expletive) folks around here don’t even know how to give their (animal Jesus rode used as body part) a good wipe after taking a (feces expletive noun).”

Mildred sighed inside. Wrung her hands in her lap. Focused on the Lord’s Table. God help us. No telling what Momma would’ve said now.

Usually before Revival, Mildred spent days polishing the Communion silver so the world was reflected like in one of those fun house mirrors. But this time, like everything else, somebody else had. And not that good either. Snorted. Probably Alex’s wife, Naomi. About time she did something. She doesn’t know how to play the piano or teach Sunday school. Everybody is afraid of a little elbow grease these days.

Like her momma, Mildred B.F. (before fall) was in charge of getting the Elements together. She squirted the Welch’s Grape Juice into the tiny glasses with a dishwashing detergent bottle, one of her mother’s helpful hints. They never used wine. Her momma always said, “There are too many young people and alcoholics in Damascus.”

Except for the Communions during Revival, Christmas, Easter, and Homecoming when the Church ordered see-through wafers that Mildred thought tasted horrible, she cut up slices of Sunbeam Bread. “Always trim the crust,” her momma instructed, “and make sure the squares are delicate enough to be picked up with just the thumb and middle finger. Don’t bear down with the knife too hard or the bread won’t spring back up. And never use wheat or rye. Our Lord wasn’t Colored.”

Yes, Momma.

After folding the linen back, the two men knelt beside the Table. Brother Cobb prayed the familiar words. “Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men, we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against Thy Divine Majesty…”

Yeah, Mildred thought bowing her head, but not closing her eyes, and you’ve got one of the worst sinners on earth helping you. Blasphemy I say. You’re making a mockery out of a holy sacrament. If it weren’t for my granddaughter, I would get up right now and give you both a good piece of my mind! The gall of some people! Squeezed her handkerchief until her fingernails cut into her palm.

Brother Cobb continued chatting. Used the short version. They always did during Revival. “We do not presume to come to this, Thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table…”

Amen, Mildred snorted to herself, and some of us ain’t worthy enough to be tossed the scraps left for the dogs. Wagged her head back and forth inside unable to accept what was happening before her. Why, it’s enough to cause a stroke! God have mercy on our souls!

Brother Cobb stood. Uncovered the platter of wafers and the round silver container of tiny, grape juice filled glasses. After kneeling and taking Communion, he served the Elements to Francis Paul Day who gulped them as though he’d never eaten before.

That settles it, Mildred swore to herself watching their movements like a hunter stalking a deer. I’m not going up to the altar when Alex delivers the invitation! I’ll stay here in my pew. Claim it’s too painful to walk. Everybody will understand. They know the trauma I’ve been through.

The Reverend Cobb turned toward the congregation. Hands folded prayer-like at his chest. “Tonight, since we’re somewhat straying from the book, I’m inviting a special member of our Church family to come up and take Communion before everybody else. Because of her recent illness, she has not been able to do as in the past for our Revival, but her faithfulness is an inspiration to us all. We are deeply blessed she is able to be with us tonight.” The Reverend Cobb smiled his widest foolish grin. Stretched out his right hand. “So will Sister Mildred Hayes please come up to the altar? I’m sure her lovely granddaughter, Catherine, will assist her in the journey.”

Mildred gasped. Grabbed her bosom. Nearly fainted. Humph! Pish and pshaw! Even sitting her knees felt wobbly. She couldn’t refuse because all eyes in the room were watching and waiting. Like her mother always said, “Beyond flustered and agitated,” she forgot herself.

Dammit-to-hell! Alex, you’ll regret this after I write my letter! When I’m through you’ll be lucky if they let you into any church even as a janitor! And that includes the Colored ones!

For moments, which lasted an eternity, she sat silent trying to compose herself. Opened and shut her purse, the clasp snapping and popping. I’ve got to go, there ain’t no way out. I’m weary, but must go. Inhaled. Sighed inside. Glanced up. ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…’

Looped her purse strap through her left arm. Slowly pulled up holding onto the back of the pew in front while Catherine gently pushed from behind. ‘Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…’

Snatched up her cane, stuffed great-great Granny Fannie’s handkerchief up her left sleeve. Carefully stepped out onto the aisle. She had never been so embarrassed in her life, even as a child when her mother caught her and Beulah holding hands. Beulah’s momma Lizzie used to do their washing. Mildred explained that they were only playing, but her mother scrubbed her hands raw with lye soap. From that day forth Lizzie took their laundry home. The organ kept moaning that unknown tune.

Each of Mildred’s steps seemed like the first for a baby, sideways instead of straight ahead. Her purse bumped against her leg. Please God, don’t let me stumble and fall flat on my face before everyone! The aisle, less than thirty feet, seemed a mile long. Her granddaughter’s hand at her elbow felt like the wind lifting her up. She thought of her daddy also touching her arm years ago, leading her up the same aisle to meet Arthur.

I was still just a kid then. Didn’t know anything about life. If I knew all the tragedies to follow, I would’ve stopped, turned, and run screaming out the door. But life is a secret. The only thing for certain after you are born is you’re going to die. Everything is unknown in-between. We are afraid to die, but also afraid to live, so we’re stuck in the middle with doubts.

Trudged onward. ‘Thou preparest a table before in the presence of mine enemies…’ O Lord, have mercy on me, your most humble and obedient servant.

“Bless you, Sister,” Brother Cobb said stretching forth his hands as Mildred approached the rail. “I’m sure the Lord will understand if you don’t kneel.”

“That’s okay,” Mildred muttered loud enough to be heard by the two men standing before and her granddaughter beside, but not the congregation behind. “I’ll kneel.”

She wasn’t going to embarrass herself anymore by playing a cripple. “It’ll just take a little time. The joints are rusty.” Catherine wrapped her arms around Mildred’s waist. Eased her to the floor. Before her fall, Mildred touched her toes ten times each morning after rising and ten times at night before kneeling in prayer. Believed you exercised the body as well as the soul.

Mildred bit her bottom lip to keep from screaming. Humph! Pish and pshaw! Her bones sounded like the Rice Krispies she served Frankie when he was little after pouring on milk. The noise tickled him, but his favorite was that cereal with the horse on front wearing a cowboy hat. Can’t remember its name, wouldn’t serve it often. Those presweetened cereals ain’t nothing except sugar. Might as well be eating straight out of the sugar bowl. We ain’t supposed to have everything we want, that’s how life is. We’re put here to suffer, like I’m doing now. Snorted inside. Glanced up. Still, it seems like some folks take pleasure in tormenting others. Why can’t folks leave each other alone? Life is strenuous enough. Well, at least I ain’t falling further than the floor.

After awhile she was down, somewhat steady with Catherine on her left side and the cane on her right. From this view everything looks looming. Appears larger than it really is like when I was a child. Back then we were timid, afraid to speak to grown-ups unless spoken to, mostly ‘Yes, Sir’ or ‘No, Ma’am’. Children and adults lived in separate worlds with ways all their own. Hearing but never listening to each other.

Then Mildred remembered the coins to leave on the rail. “My token of repentance,” she explained to Clara though inside knew it wasn’t necessary except as a prod for others, which seldom worked.

The body and the blood are free,” Momma used to say, “but the bread and grape juice need to be paid for.” Usually she had the money in hand before leaving her pew. Another casualty of Alex’s surprise, he’ll be sorry once I write my letter. Snapped open her purse. Fingers fumbling inside, hurrying before…

Brother Cobb stood before Mildred holding the paten of see-through wafers. She stopped rumbling through her purse. Glanced up. Momma said that’s the correct term, a platter is what John the Baptist’s head was served on. Her thumb and her middle finger, pinkie in the air, trembling as though cold, finally picked one up.

“Jesus said, ‘This is My body which is given for you.’ Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you.” He then held the paten before Catherine who plucked up a wafer with her hand nearly closed.

Before Mildred could reach back inside her purse, Francis Paul Day loomed before her with the round container of glasses holding grape juice. I can’t remember the correct term or how many glasses are in each tier, maybe fifty. On ordinary Communion Sundays you don’t need to fill both tiers up. Gasped inside. Nearly fell backwards. The blue ink tattoo branded into his right hand struck again. The mark of the Devil!

Brother Cobb continued. “Jesus said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’ Drink this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and be thankful.” Mildred slowly picked the glass up. It nearly slipped through her fingers.

Francis Paul Day then turned toward Catherine. A smile spread across his lips. His eyes twinkled.

Mildred nearly fainted. She saw that same look in Arthur’s face years ago. O God, no! Again she wanted to break away and run screaming out of the door, but that strange music felt like a five hundred-pound weight holding her down.

It was the custom of the Damascus Southern Baptist Church congregation receiving Communion not to partake of the Elements until both were in hand. Even though together they weighed less than an ounce, Mildred thought they were a ton. Humph! Pish and pshaw! Never knew a little bit of bread and a spot of grape juice could be so heavy.

Her hands trembled as fast as her heart pounded. The world began spinning. She needed to lie down. Touched the wafer to her lips, which tasted drier than paper. Lifted the glass almost to her lips, but the blood split down the front of her dress.

A gasp behind sounded like the congregation was sucking up air.

                                                      from Second Blessing

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About John Northcutt Young

I write. Remember making-up stories from spelling words in the fifth grade. A journalism degree followed. Thanks for looking.
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