Monday, May 4, 2009

Is It Just Me, Or Does that Look Like Blood?

So I'm standing in front of my congregation, and I'm halfway through.

I take up the humble brown stonefired ceramic jug. I take up the matching cup. With the cup held close to the microphone before me, I utter the same words I've uttered hundreds of times, evoking memory and invoking the Spirit. I speak the words looking out to the flock, the exchange from container to container coming from sense memory alone. As the fruit of the vine cascades from jug to cup, the sound of cascading fluid should fill the room, an electronically augmented pouring out that stirs Him in the ears of His people.

But...there is no sound.

I glance down, still speaking. The "fruit of the vine" pours thick and deep purple-red from ceramic to ceramic, flowing silky silent, the consistency of a low viscosity motor oil. The smell that rises from the cup is very wrong, missing all of its usual jelly-jar Welches overtones. I continue to speak, intoning the words and performing the required actions as a subroutine, while my higher functions go elsewhere, scrabbling for a response to this unexpected event.

My first response is Dear Lord, it looks like thickly congealed blood. This is quickly dismissed, thus saving me from having to reconsider my Reformed position on transubstantiation. The scent that rises from the cup in my hand is sharp and heavy, not salt and meat. It is the pungency of turned fruit. The grape juice for our Lord's Supper is kept in cans, and those cans are kept for a long, long while. Occam's Razor chimes in happily: It has gone bad.

The question is: how bad?

I am now walking and speaking on autopilot, moving towards the station where those gathered for worship will receive bread and cup. Is this dark fluid just a little sour, slightly off, a tich more bitter than it would be normally but otherwise fine? This is acceptable. Or is it riddled through with bacteria who have their hearts set on turning our parlor fellowship into an impromptu vomitorium? This is not acceptable.

Can I bail? Can I hang a hard left and walk suddenly out of the sanctuary, dump the strange stuff, refill the cup, and come bounding back in to continue as if nothing had happened? Problem is, there is no guarantee that any potable fluid remains. Perhaps if I just silently turn and flee.

I decide to stop, and taste it myself. A desperate breach of protocol, to be sure. I'm not quite sure where the Apostle Paul would come down on it, although if we still had the long missing Fifth Letter to the Church at Corinth, I think he'd approve.

It's...well...not utterly foul. Only slightly foul. It tastes like a blend of prune juice, Night Train, and blackberries. As something to serve with a meal, it leaves a great deal to be desired. If it's only a strange flavor blackening the end of a small dunked rectangle of bread, it should be fine. I ask an elder to taste it, and she...utterly baffled at the peculiarity of my request..does so, indicating that it's not so bad. I ask a young congregant, and he shrugs and mumbles that it's fine.

And so we continue, and other than a few puzzled questions during the fellowship hour, all is well.