“This do in remembrance of me.” The words of Christ, spoken as he instituted the Lord’s Supper. And remember we do, as we faithfully munch on a cracker and sip a very small cup of grape juice.
But how do you get that Eucharistic goodness so conveniently every week? There’s a lot of mysterious behind-the-scenes work to be sure, but the most visible and terrifying job is that of the tray passer. Some Christian traditions make their congregations reverently shuffle to the front every Sunday; others encourage the faithful to plod to the back of the room and participate in the sacrament buffet-style.
But in the tradition of most at this venerable university, those trusty tray-passing people bring the body and blood right to your pew.
But oh, what a difficult and harrowing task it is, and one so often thrust upon the very young. I recall my first time passing those tradition-laden plates. The young men of my congregation had just completed a lengthy series of Sunday night classes on leadership and basic church jobs. After a few evenings of chaotic hand waving, we could lead congregational singing. After peeking at the acronym “ACTS” written on the chalkboard, we younguns could lead a fairly coherent prayer. And after a practice round of wandering the auditorium passing songbooks back and forth, we were prepared to play the crucial role of tray passer.
When the big day came, we were rather confused to find the cups filled with white grape juice instead of the usual crimson. It was rather disheartening to discover that those in charge thought that a white grape juice stain would blend better than red with the auditorium carpeting. Did they expect us to try and toss the things to one another? Communion cup fillers, wherever you are, do not so crush the spirits of young tray passers. Entrust to them the red grape, in all of its staining glory.
It should be noted that while dropping a tray is indeed the worst of tray-passing mistakes, it is by no means the only one possible. There is the cringe-inducing “clinker” in which two plates are sent down the same pew from opposing ends, the embarrassing “passover” in which an entire row is skipped causing its occupants to wildly gesture, and of course the dreaded “lost sheep,” whereupon counting the trays in the back, one realizes that a lone plate is still somewhere in the vast expanse of the congregation and is in all likelihood being held by the outstretched and tired arm of some weary widow on the end of a row. And if one is truly thirsting for an unpleasant and awkward social experience, I would recommend the “first shall be last,” a mistake invented by my brother Andrew and myself when we started the trays from the back of the congregation rather than walking up the aisle and starting with the first row. This causes much anxiety amongst “front row-ers.” Some held out longer than others, but eventually, every head in the room turned back to see where in creation those plates were.
My most interesting experiences tray-passing have taken place at the Impact Church of Christ in inner-city Houston. I recall making change for someone in the collection plate, helping a disabled woman move the cup all the way up to her mouth and, in the nick of time, stopping a man from dumping several coins from his shoe into the tray of bread.
Yes, there’s never a dull moment for the fearless tray passer. It is always a rewarding, though stressful, endeavor. So this Sunday, go ahead and smile at that young brother or sister passing you the tray, and while you’re at it, unstack that annoying “Tower of Bable” people make out of cups in the middle of the juice tray. That’s just an accident waiting to happen.