A couple of weeks ago, I encountered something I never expected during the Sacrament: politesse.
We got to church late (which we usually don’t do (believe it or not)). I sat down with my two kids on a couch in the foyer (sitting beside some old man I don’t know so that my kids would feel comfortable). After a while, a young man came out with the tray. He moved down the couch (starting with the old man). I dutifully accepted the bread and he moved down to my daughter, who was next in line. After she took the bread, she said “Thank you.” My son did the same.
I was somewhat surprised and a little taken aback. You don’t speak in sacrament. However, I stopped myself from whispering at them. When the water came, they both did it again. “Thank you”
They never say thank you to me or to my wife when we hand them the tray in the pews. I wonder if it was because we were in a new setting or if it was because someone new was handing it to them. Something inspired them (they haven’t repeated this in the week’s since either (but we’ve made it on time, too)).
What’s interesting to me is my reaction. My immediate thought was “Don’t make noise during the Sacrament.” But is there anything wrong with acknowledging a service done us? Why shouldn’t we say thank you to the young men (and old) who pass us the sacrament? Where exactly is the sacrilege in that?
Of course, ritual demands attention. We are supposed to spend our time during the sacrament contemplating Jesus and what he did for us. The movement and words of the ordinance are meant to be undisturbed in order for it to have power (mess up the wording and it has to be repeated; require new bread or water and the same is necessary). But these words were spoken from the heart of a child, were entirely unprompted, and were sincere. Why was my initial reaction to counter them as I would some blasphemy?
Part of the power of ritual is its reproducibility. Spontaneous eruptions of spirituality are slightly disturbing; the staid and formal offers us more control over our own emotion. We may tolerate the occasional Aloha from the pulpit, but only occasionally (and only if that person is actually from Hawaii or recently served a mission there). However, so much of Christ’s ministry was spontaneous. He helped people he met on the street. He stopped, on the way to save a man’s daughter, to find the woman healed by the hem of his garment. You don’t leave with an impression of a man who felt bound by ritual or even a schedule. While I appreciate the regular rhythms of the sacramental prayers and the passing of the bread and water, it can deaden as well as clear the mind. Perhaps a little more spontaneity is in order.