Tuesday, October 25, 2011

31 days || twenty-five: celebrating imperfect communion.

{photo by Xavier Encinas}

Each Sunday, the congregation bows their heads in unison, taking bits of cracker and sips of grape juice in something akin to silence. There is the occasional baby's cry, the clank as trays collide, but mostly, there is silence. 

I have long wondered if this tradition that my church history so emphasizes is anything like that ancient meal, eaten by friends in the heat and intimacy of an upper room. Because it doesn't always feel like it. 

Maybe it is my high metabolism, but the crackers and the tiny plastic cups of juice just never seem to be enough. 

I want more. 

Last week, as I read in Sara Miles' Take This Bread how this act of communion, of Eucharist, brought Miles -- a former atheist -- into fellowship with the Father, I wondered if I had somehow missed the power.

I have been sitting and passing plate to hand since I was 13, at first intrigued by what I thought was a "grown-up" tradition, then in awe. Perhaps, for a time, I was ambivalent. For these past few years, though, I have been wondering: Is this what it looked like before, when Jesus broke bread with those He loved most, knew best?

And I know, deep in my heart, that it is not. The crisp, store bought crackers, the pungent purple grape juice. Even at its best, even on the Sundays where my mind is focused and my heart is clear and searching, I know: That last supper didn't look like this. 

But that's okay. 

In a perfect world, in a church mandated by me -- I shudder at the thought! -- communion would be taken at tables. We would pray and we would cry and we would laugh and we would share about the week's struggles, about life and how it had almost beaten us in the past days. And we would reflect on what has brought us together: the blood He chose to shed for us, for the religion established "in which divinity was revealed by scars on flesh.... in which new life was manifested through a humiliated, hungry woman and an empty, tortured man" (Miles 68).

A few weeks ago, while browsing the aisles of Barnes and Noble, my eyes wandered to Sam Harris' book, Letter to a Christian Nation. I turned page after page, blushing, heart breaking at the words. I don't like being called an idiot, don't like hearing my faith belittled or the Savior re-crucified. But I wasn't angry. Humiliated? Yes. Full of questions? Yes. I read nearly 20 pages before giving it over to Jordan, before talking about what I'd read and how it had left me, before launching into my questions, questions I don't think I'll be getting the answers to anytime soon. 

This faith I attempt to live out on a daily basis? It is hard. Hard because I don't have answers for the questions people ask. Hard because Christians hurt my feelings and misunderstand me more than non-Christians do, hard because there is war and there is hate and there are picket lines and hungry people not being fed. 

But there's this part of Miles' book where she realizes, as she takes the bread and the wine and joins in fellowship with other believers, that this faith is not about her. It's not about Sara Miles, the individual.

What happened once I started distributing communion was the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity: You can't be a Christian by yourself.


I was going to get communion, whether I wanted it or not, with people I didn't necessarily like. People I didn't choose. People such as my parents or the strangers who fed me: the people God chose for me. 

I wish, sometimes, that our church wasn't silent in communion. That it would be okay to whisper and to smile and to celebrate the broken body that made us whole.

But church isn't about me. Communion isn't about me. This life isn't about me. 

This meal of bread and wine has been called many things. Communion. The Lord's Supper. Eucharist. Divine Liturgy. Offering. Sacrifice. 

Miles terms it "supper with God." I've been invited -- with my friends, my family, my enemies, the people I don't give a second thought to -- to supper with God together. And just like any other party or celebration I attend, it isn't about me. It's about Him, about all of us as we come together with our quirks and our sins and our imperfections and our crap...eating and communing with the Divine. 

The Divine wants to eat with me. 

He wanted to eat with me all those years ago when He sat in a closed upper room, talking and laughing and praying with His best friends.

He wanted to eat with me when His body defied nature's laws and appeared after death to two lonely men on a road, to fisherman out at sea, to friends gathered, again, in an upper room. 

My faith isn't perfect. I don't always know why I believe it or what exactly it does to me. If Mr. Harris stopped by for a visit, I likely wouldn't have very much to say. 

But I know that there is something comforting about it, about the perfect being made imperfect, about humans maybe messing up what He established to be good and purposeful and whole, and Him restoring it, redeeming it, again and again and again.

I'm not sure Christ would recognize what we do at our tiny church building each Sunday as that last meal He shared with His disciples.

But I know He would recognize us. He would call us by name, and He would invite us to supper with Him. He would redeem it. He would make our imperfect communion something sacred.

I have firm faith in that.


Annie said...

Oh, Annie. This is beautiful. I love it.

I have tried, particularly when I was very jaded with churches and the organizational part of faith, to remind myself that the church and its members are imperfect. That therefore, our manifestations of God are imperfect.

It is easy to be discouraged by that, but we have a promise. A promise to be made perfect. A promise that one day, the work He has begun in us, the work of perfecting us, will be complete.

jenna said...

I have firm faith in that too. Thank you for reminding me of it.

Sam said...


Brunella Z. said...

grazie. Davvero.

dash said...

This touches my heart so deeply.
My youth pastor, David Gentiles, who passed away 2 years ago unexpectedly, always did communion in the lovely, real way you are longing for. We bought pretzels and slushies, and ate them on park benches. We got chocolate milk and donuts, and sat on the floor of the big barn at summer camp with our circles of friends, and we laughed and cried and sang and sought.
We reflected and remembered Jesus, and talked about Him and loved Him.
My husband and I just moved to a new city with our best friends, for the purpose of community, and I think tonight we will sit down with wine and a meal and remember.
Thank you so much for this.

Jessica said...

Matthew and I have been mulling over this and other topics lately and considering what it all means for our future. I know that's vague, but we're still pretty vague with our thoughts. We just know that this sort of thing like your talking about is causing us to reconsider some things for our life, especially so now that we are bringing up Amos.

I really like this--"I was going to get communion, whether I wanted it or not, with people I didn't necessarily like. People I didn't choose."

Ashley said...

Wonderful, beautiful, pure, thoughts