I help serve communion twice a year at the jail – around Easter and around Christmas. In the past we’ve had a number of people help and have done the entire jail in a single morning. However, this year was more challenging due to frequent lockdowns and increased security concerns, so a pair of people were asked to serve communion to a unit whenever they could get in.
Another person and I were able to serve one unit even though there had been two lockdowns earlier that day. I asked the other person if she could do the primary serving and I would help, since my hearing was not up to the task this year.
We collected the communion elements, arrived at the unit, and entered the first section. In this jail a unit is divided into three sections.
The guard announced our presence and purpose. Only a couple of men came into the multi-purpose room where we were serving. After we served these two men we waited for a few minutes and then left the section when no one else came.
It seems that jail and the Navy have something in common: Never Again Volunteer Yourself
People are extremely reluctant to volunteer to participate in something unless they understand exactly what they are getting into.
As we were waiting to get into the next section we were called back to the first section. Apparently the first two men explained what had happened to the other guys on the unit. When we went back in five more wanted to partake in communion.
This pattern repeated in the next two sections as well. Serve a few. Leave. Get called back. Serve even more than the first time.
- A small wave
- The few explain what happened and what they experienced
- A larger wave of men partakes
Since my hearing was impaired this was a far more visual experience for me.
- Watching the walk and the expression of each man as he comes
- Seeing the wafer dipped in the juice
- The prayer of the server
- The hand receiving the elements
- In this moment he is no longer an inmate, he stands as a human at the altar of Grace
- The transition of the face of the man as he partakes
- Watching his steps as he walks away
After we had served the men in a section a second time, one of the guards also participated after all the other men were out of the room.
Jailed, and jailer, receiving grace.
After we finished serving I went to the maximum-security unit and began our Bible Study with the six men who were waiting.
We shared stories about long road trips. One man had done family road trips between Alabama and California when he was a kid. Another man was on a family vacation that traveled the Pacific Coast highway from Los Angeles to Seattle.
Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Travel changes us.
We then read our scripture:
Matthew 2:1-12 (NIV)
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
I had used this same scripture three hears earlier: Taking a Different Path Home
The men were not very familiar with the story of the birth of Jesus. Outside of the church there is little to no mention of these events. Christmas is about Santa, presents, a tree, family gatherings, and Black Friday deals.
One man had heard the Jesus could talk as soon as he was born, and that he never cried. Others were unsure how long ago these events actually happened.
We talked though the basics of the birth story, and the timeline. We can infer from the text that the magi didn’t come at the same time as the shepherds, since in this story Mary and Jesus are in a house.
I explained the significance of the gifts:
- Gold, a gift for royalty, recognized Jesus as a ruler.
- Frankincense was used in healing and acknowledged Jesus as the One who brings healing.
- Myrrh was also used in healing, but also used to prepare bodies for burial. This gift acknowledged how we are healed through his death and resurrection.
As had happened before when I shared this scripture, the section that caused the most thoughtful attention was “they returned to their country by another route.”
What does it mean for each of these men to go home by a different way?
They can see where the old path has brought them.
After seeking the Savior, how do they live each day going a different way?