In Tennessee spring comes early and it comes with a rush of green, a smattering of rain, and balmy air. And one warm day in late February, at our pentecostal university, in our capstone class full of doubters, our favorite literature professor extended an invitation to us that changed us all.
She, unlike the rest of the faculty who were mostly staple Pentecostals or Baptists, attended a small Episcopalian church a few blocks away. We all knew the church because we were not only students of literature, we were students of history and this small, stone chapel had more history on its front steps than most of the mega-churches had on their whole grounds. We smelled history just walking by it.
But that Wednesday afternoon, as the class was finishing, she was teaching on an excerpt from O'Connor or Greene, and there was a hush in our room, so quiet we could hear the birds outside the closed windows and the traffic down Ocoee street. I cannot remember what she said save for how she ended her exposition, "...so I'm inviting you all to come to church with me after this, come, eat the bread, share the wine, receive the ash on your forehead, speak the liturgy, rest in what is finished by Christ, but partaken by all of us, the fellowship of His sufferings."
I don't remember how many of us took her up on her offer, but I did, and a few others did and it was a silent group who walked those blocks to the Episcopalian stone church. We felt something holy in that classroom—it had felt so long since there was anything that felt holy in our lives so inundated by three chord songs, loud prophesies, and color coordinated worship teams.
We filed in slowly, quietly, sitting on hard, uncomfortable pews, with our knees held close and our minds alive.
I do not remember what was said in that sanctuary that day, but I know it was the first time that I tasted real wine at the communion table, the first time I knew that sharing in the sufferings of Christ was not sweet like grape juice, but bitter and stinging sometimes like wine.
It was the first time the wafer melted on my tongue, sitting there, unfamiliar in my mouth, unlike the chunks of bread I would hurriedly chew in every other communion experience.
And it might have been the first time that I understood that communion is communal and interdenominational. A shared experience with Christ and with one another.
Even though I had walked into my classroom with no thought for Lent or Ash Wednesday or Communion, I walked out of those wooden church doors heavy with responsibility and heavy with hope. I don't remember what I fasted from that first Lenten season, nor in subsequent ones, every year has been different. But I will never forget those holy moments, that quiet hope of resurrection, or those two professors of English who pushed a classroom of jaded doubters into seekers and finders.