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Be careful!” I warn as I place the miniature cup of grape juice into miniature hands. “I don’t want you to spill this on your pretty new church dress!”

“I won’t spill it, Mommy,” she assures me, “I will be soooo careful. See?” She cradles the tiny cup in both palms, protected by little fingers wrapped around tight.

I know she’s going to spill it. I fight the urge to say so.

“Mommy,” her four-year-old twin brother hisses, “she gets to hold her cup! I want to hold my cup too!” he insists. “I will never ever spill it! You’ll see!” He bounces up and down in excitement. Of course he will spill it. He will spill it within the first nine seconds, because this child of mine cannot stay still for any longer than that. I look over his outfit—black pinstripes. Probably polyester? I can wash it.

“OK,” I consent, “you can hold your cup if you stay still like a frozen statue!”

“I will!” he promises. I place the cup into his chubby hands, covered in green and blue marker spots, goldfish crumbs, and something sticky. He grins from ear to ear, his entire face lighting up at this newly acquired privilege.

I look down the row at my two older boys, poking and tickling each other in the row, their Communion cups safely placed in holders in the pew. This isn’t their first rodeo. They know better than to try to hold the cup. They’ve spilled too many cups already and ended up with only drops in the bottom when “everyone else got a whole sip!”

My attention turns back to the twins. They’re peering into their half ounces of grape juice as if all the world’s mysteries are contained inside. I sigh. I reach for my own cup—but there isn’t one. What? Apparently, while I was distracted with serving my children, I forgot to serve myself. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened during Communion or during this month or even during this week—and I’m not talking about grape juice anymore or food of any kind. I’m talking about the kind of soul care I dish heaps of to everyone in my family but myself. I’ll do better, I think silently as the pastor begins speaking. Just say it quickly, I beg him internally, we’ve almost made it!

“Now let us consider what our Lord did on the night He was arrested,” the pastor begins. “I’ll be reading from Matthew 26:26–28, if you’d like to follow along with me.”

For a moment I consider looking up the verses in the Bible on the pew beside me, but I know better. I must keep my hands free, in case someone spills, because I fully expect someone to spill, even though I’m holding out hope that I could be wrong. I decide to settle for listening to the story read aloud instead of reading it myself.

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body’ ” (verse 27).

My mind wanders away from this crowded church, away from tiny people balancing plastic thimble-sized cups, into an attic room in an ancient house, long ago. What did it look like? I wonder. Jesus chose this room as the place where He would eat His very last meal on Earth. Of course, nobody knew it was His last meal. Nobody, that is, except Him. It must have come as a surprise to His 12 closest followers, then, that He began breaking bread and comparing it to His body, which would soon be very bruised and battered on the cross. Did they understand at the time? Certainly not. How could they?

The pastor continues reading, “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until the day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (verses 27–29).

As a child, I can remember always finding the Communion service a little strange; and maybe even gross—who would want to eat Jesus’ body or drink Jesus’ blood? I’ve never asked my children about this, but now I find myself wondering whether they find it strange as well. Over the years, as I grew older, I realized these words of Jesus were symbolic. He asks us to repeat the service now, in our time, because He wants us to keep remembering what the symbols mean: that His body was broken and His blood was spilled so that we could experience forgiveness from sin.

Now as an adult, taking part in a Communion service is much different. When I’m not trying to imagine Jesus at the table with His friends, and when I’m not attempting to keep my children from spilling grape juice everywhere, I try to think about forgiveness. I try to remember—as He asks us to—that everything He endured on the cross was so that I could experience a forgiveness and a freedom from my sins. Not just someday in heaven but here, this day, right now—Jesus has provided a way for me to live free from sin’s slavery.

“Oh no Mommy!” my daughter breaks into my thoughts, whispering louder than most people talk. “Look! Look at my juice, Mommy, it jumped right out of my cup! It spilled, Mommy! It’s everywhere!” Sure enough. Her pretty Sabbath dress sports speckles and spots of grape juice in every direction. She is crushed. “Now how can I be in the Jesus story?” she whines, and at first I’m not sure just what to say. How can any of us be “in the Jesus story”? Is this the best way to be in the Jesus story?

I look over at her twin brother. He is slowly pouring the juice out on the floor—intentionally—onto a waiting plastic dinosaur below. “Aaaaahhhhh!” he exclaims, “the lava is coming! Ruuuun!” Spilled juice, spilled juice everywhere—just as I’d guessed. How much spilled juice will there be by the end of this? I don’t even want to look at my two oldest sons, because if I find even more spilled juice, I think I might explode in frustration.

“When we eat this bread, and drink this cup,” the pastor breaks in again, “we remember His broken body, and His blood that was spilled for us.”

It’s then that the word finally jumps out at me: spilled!

Spilled juice, spilled blood—yes, spilled! Yes. I realize that this is exactly how the story is supposed to go after all. It isn’t a neat and tidy story. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t clean. Instead, it’s a story about suffering and anguish and death and—of course—spills. Spilled blood, spilled love, spilled salvation dripping down, running free for all.

I lean down close to my little girl’s ear, and I whisper, “Sweetie! Don’t worry! You are in the Jesus story more than anyone else here—because Jesus’ blood spilled on the ground, just like your juice spilled on your dress!” She looks up at me, brown eyes wide with curiosity. I continue, “You did the same thing Jesus did, honey. He spilled His blood. And you spilled your juice. And now every time you see that spill, you can think about how much He loves you.”

Her face softens into a smile. I smile too. We’ll buy grape juice at the store this week, to make up for it. And I’ll be doing laundry this evening. And I make a note to myself here and now, that every time we spill something in the coming days, I’m not going to get overwhelmed or exasperated. Today I decide something different: today, I decide that spilled juice will become a reminder of Jesus.

What Communion Means to Me

by Melissa Howell
From the April 2017 Signs