This is Holy: Holiness and Homelessness

Youth Force OKC 2012

This is one of the most incredible stories I have ever heard. I hope you will share it with others.

Youth Force OKC is an event for Junior and Senior High youth to get together for a week and repair homes for families who could never afford to do it on their own.

They were located out of this church – it’s the First United Methodist Church in downtown Oklahoma City, OK.

First Church does good work with the homeless, as many in this sprawled out city are located in Downtown. Every morning, the youth and adult sponsors would gather in a small chapel to celebrate communion before they went out to work. I found it to be incredibly significant, as our communion liturgy includes this prayer by the celebrant: “Make them [bread and cup] be for us the body and blood of Christ, so that we might be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.”

One morning, before communion began, a homeless man wandered into the chapel from the street. He probably looked a little something like this

The OKC Homeless Alliance, with the help of police, flies over the city once a year to take a census. We have almost 2,000 homeless visible from a helicopter each year. This doesn’t count the ones we can’t see.

The pastor that was going to serve communion that morning to the teams set out the bread and the cup on the altar in the small chapel.

Do This in Remembrance of Me

Not knowing he was doing anything out of the ordinary, the homeless man walked up to the altar, took the bread and the cup of grape juice, and returned to his seat. He proceeded to help himself to the bread and the cup.

The pastor returned with the first round of youth and adults, and they found the homeless man. He was eating what they were planning to consume themselves. Some commented on his smell and attire, while others asked quietly if they needed to take the elements for the sacrament back from him. The pastor did the right thing (in my opinion): he sent for a member of the kitchen staff and got a new loaf of bread and a new chalice of juice. The homeless man began to realize that he had done something unorthodox, but no one stopped him. He remained through the Great Thanksgiving. Row after row, kids and adults took communion, and then turned and walked out. Eventually, one of the youth said, “God bless you” to the homeless man. He nodded and kept eating. Other youth and adults picked up on the three word blessing, and began sharing it with the man, one by one.

The last youth took communion, turned, and asked the man if she could put the rest of the grape juice in a styrofoam cup for him before he left. They sent him on his way with the symbolic body and blood of Christ filling his empty belly.

But the story doesn’t end there. The youth returned to the church for lunch later in the afternoon. They saw the man from earlier that morning, out on the street. He was serving communion to other homeless people. They looked on as the man walked up to his fellow street-dwellers and simply said to them, “This is holy.” He tore them off a piece of the bread, invited them to dip it in the cup, and moved on to the next person.

“This is holy.”

What else can we say in the face of the Great Mystery? This man took what he barely understood out into the street, tattered jacket and smelly jeans, offering the people he knew the gift of Jesus Christ. I am reminded of John Wesley’s Sermon 101, a sermon that also spells out plainly that it is dangerous to assume oneself unworthy of receiving the sacrament:

Sermon 101

(Text from the 1872 Edition)

The following discourse was written above five-and-fifty years ago, for the use of my pupils at Oxford. I have added very little, but retrenched much; as I then used more words than I do now. But, I thank God, I have not yet seen cause to alter my sentiments in any point which is therein delivered.


“Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

It is no wonder that men who have no fear of God should never think of doing this. But it is strange that it should be neglected by any that do fear God, and desire to save their souls; And yet nothing is more common. One reason why many neglect it is, they are so much afraid of “eating and drinking unworthily,” that they never think how much greater the danger is when they do not eat or drink it at all. That I may do what I can to bring these well-meaning men to a more just way of thinking, I shall … show that it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can…

I wept as I heard the story. It had been a proverbial “time and two times” since I had experienced a story so saturated with the movement of the Holy Spirit.

That’s grace, isn’t it? The man walked up to the altar and received Christ in abundance. He did not understand it fully, but was so filled by the product of prevenient grace – that is, justification and the beginnings of a walk in sanctification – that he felt compelled to leave the church and share it with people he knew. Unmerited, undeserved gifts that God gives freely to all persons.

This is holy.

5 comments

  1. My community is just beginning a series on Breaking Bread–How God feeds us and expects us to feed/be fed by others. May I have your permission to share this story? You can respond at pastor.cynthia@earthlink.net

    Rev. Cynthia Kepler-Karrer
    Memorial UMC, Austin, TX
    “We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glowworm.” –Winston Churchill

    1. Michele, I appreciate your comment. You’re right – we should all struggle to come up with the words that get anywhere close to describing communitas. Thanks for sharing!

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