The Table

Eat my flesh.

Drink my blood.

Those outside the early church, hearing these words,

accused of cannibalism.

Understandable.

But though there were no ritual drums,

No contemptible ingredients.

It was; it IS—

a brush with the holy.

No matter literal or symbolic,

We have, in truth, taken. in. God.

Mystery upon mystery:

that the God of the universe

Put on flesh,

veins, arteries ribboning through,

Coursing with blood—

And offered himself for our consumption,

Entering us, being in us.

Somehow making each

Unique

Yet (another mystery!)

Part of a people, the people of God

Belonging as family, truest family,

the Presence within far surpassing the differences without.

So let us not forget, as we come to the table, as we are told,

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.

This is Christ’s blood, spilled for you,”

These holy mysteries:

God enfleshed,

God in me, you,

Us, the people of God.

Remember—

with lips and teeth and tongue and throats,

with chewing, swallowing, digesting.

So that,

in-Presenced with Christ

From fingers to toes, and all in between;

Empowered with the energy of digested bread and wine—

Flesh and blood—

with life given to heart and lungs and mind and limbs,

we love with heart and breath and mind and strength:

God and neighbor.

God and the Family.

And lest we forget—how easily we do—

We come to the table again

And again and again.

Take, eat.

Take, drink.

This is my body, torn for you.

This is my blood, spilt for you.

The gifts of God for the people of God,

So we can be filled with him,

Can be a people filled with him.

Do this—take and eat—

and remember

 

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Communion: a refresher course in the Gospel

The past three Januarys, I've taught a breadmaking class to Wheaton Academy students. This is one of their jelly rolls (not quite Communion bread but perhaps symbolic of the sweetness and goodness of Christ's sacrifice for us).

The past three Januarys, I’ve taught a breadmaking class to Wheaton Academy students. This is one of their jelly rolls (not quite Communion bread but perhaps symbolic of the sweetness and goodness of Christ’s sacrifice for us).

Communion during my childhood felt like the bridge challenge my brother and I gave ourselves whenever we were on road trips. We’d see a bridge a little ways ahead, breathe fast in-out, in-out, and then, as soon as the car was out over space rather than earth, try to hold our breath till we made it to the other side. Our faces turned pink with the effort; we stared at each other with wide eyes, daring the other to hold on just a little longer; and we sucked in fresh lungsful of air as soon as we were back on solid ground.

Communion in the churches I attended as a child and teen popped up like those bridges. On rare and random Sundays the silver towers of tiny crackers and grape-juice-filled cups betrayed its inclusion in the service.
And I would hold my breath—because “do not take communion in an unworthy manner” had been presented to me as a flagrant sin, and I was terrified of committing it.
First came the searching for past sins. I began at perhaps a week before and scoured my actions and thoughts up to that present moment. Discover-confess; discover-confess.
Then I held on. My main thought—prayer?—was “Don’t do anything. Please, God, don’t let me commit any new sins. Blank mind, blank mind. Don’t look at anyone.”
I simply had to make it till the two silver trays made their way past and the pastor said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Then the wafer was popped in the mouth. Hold it; try to be thankful in that moment—Remember, this is Christ’s sacrifice. A lot of pain went into my forgiveness!—don’t sin, don’t sin —then the juice—and a feeling of guilt at my enjoyment of the sweet taste.
Finally, the release of breath, the feeling that, if I were to sin at that point or thereafter, it wouldn’t be quite as big a deal.
Communion was not celebration; it was ordeal.
Not now.
First, Communion is no longer random—we participate in the Eucharist every Sunday at Church of the Resurrection—and, second, it no longer terrifies me.
This transformation began long before our change in churches. As I began to understand the Gospel more deeply, I understood there is no such thing as being “worthy to take communion,” just as there is no worthiness required or possible to receive salvation. My youthful fear of taking communion lightly actually pushed me into another unworthy way of taking it: as if I could earn it.
Communion at Rez (as attendees affectionately refer to our church) has fleshed this concept out even more. I cannot deny it was a shock to my fundamentally-brought-up soul to see tiny children taking the bread and cup my first Sunday. But week after week, as I watched little ones joyfully bounce up to accept the gifts, something began to resonate within me.
This, this, I wanted to shout one week, is the way to accept it. No pride, no self-awareness, in complete weakness, presenting nothing, simply ACCEPTING.
One Sunday this revelation became even more personal. I was processing a grudge during the sermon, and communion “popped up” for me like an unseen bridge. Suddenly the person next to me stood, and I realized it was our row’s turn to stand and go forward. A bit of the old panic struck. I’d done no preparation at all! How had this crept up on me?
But when I stepped up and the bread was pressed into my open palms, I understood it in yet another new, fresh way! Communion is like a refresher course in the Gospel: God saying, “Remember how helpless you were. Look at what I did to rescue you! You couldn’t prepare for it then. You can’t earn it now. Keep living in that truth! This is what leads to true gratitude and celebration!”
Like the children, I have nothing to offer, nothing to exchange, and I never will. I come forward, again and again, with a confidence that is based solely in Christ.
I simply accept the Gift.

Take and Eat

NOTE: The audio of my reading of this post is at the bottom. Thanks for reading (or listening).

It is whole, not a tooth mark on it. This is some kind of magic—because I ate from the fruit yesterday—and every day before. Yet it re-appears, beautiful and enticing, just as it was when Eve first considered it.

She ate it to the core. Why is it still here?

And why do I keep eating it?

It is sweet to the taste, that first bite, exploding with flavor in my mouth, but then it sits, acidic and heavy in my gut, and I regret my choice every time.

Yet, like Eve, I daily eat the fruit. The desire to set my own standards, to be MYSELF (separate from God) and for everything to be about ME, to be in control… oh, it lures me in.

It sounds like it’s promising LIFE, doesn’t it?

False advertising. LIFE would not burn so. LIFE would not eat away at my gut, eat away at me.

Yet I cannot stop myself.

I hunger!

I need. I am not complete.

I am empty.

“Eat it. Be like God. See. Know.” The whisper enchants. It flows with the rhythm of my blood. I cannot tell if it is within or without. All I know is my emptiness.

But this fruit fills it full with dark.

“Take, eat.”

Another voice.

Another food.

A morsel of bread, torn, crushed.

It does not delight the eye. It does not entice the taste.

“This is My body, broken for you.”

I recoil. To take this means I admit this lack within me. I allow Another in to witness it, to fill it—with Someone other than me.

But who am I?

I need.

I lack.

“I am the living bread.

I was broken for you.

Eat and live.”

Word Play: Sacred

This is Emily's creation, who both took the pic and added the graphic. using the app Rhonna. Merry Christmas, everyone.

This is the creation of my daughter, Emily, who both took the pic and added the graphic. using the app Rhonna. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Awhile ago I became fascinated by the interplay between the words “sacred” and “scared,” that with the shift of just one letter, such an amazing change is made. Then I played more with the letters from those words, and discovered I can also spell the words “care/cares/cared,” “scar,” and “red.”

So, though I am NOT a poet, I wrote a poem.

 

 

 

Created sacred, we once walked with the Sacred Himself,

Till, rejecting communion, we chose independence

And broke away from Sacred Life.

The rupture scarred us to our very core.

Scared of the Sacred, we hid, pretended, postured.

But–oh blessed Word work–the Sacred Himself took on our Scar and bled red with lavish care

To move us from scared to sacred,

From scarred to Life.

From death to life: the blessing of communion

Jumping in leaves at Nana and Papa's house (my in-laws).

Jumping in leaves at Nana and Papa’s house (my in-laws).

For two mornings I have been disgruntled with my younger children.

Picked at faults, pointed out shortcomings. Ranted about the fact that—though I have made a bulletin board with pictures that “tell” them all they need to accomplish in the mornings before we get in the car (so even my beginning reader can understand)—we have experienced the “we’re going to be late” scrambling rush two days in a row.

After driving to school the second morning, I came home and sat in my sin for a bit. I tried to shut down the excuses and even the premature/slightly false confession and asked the Holy Spirit to help me simply listen.

DSC_0485The Spirit peeled back a few layers and I saw some of the roots of my sin.

Then, more painful, I saw what these sins are doing to my kids: in bearing down on my children with a harsh spirit, I am crushing them; I am cutting off communication with them; I am modeling for them the very things I tell them they shouldn’t do to each other (pointing out faults, not allowing for differences, assuming that everyone should regard their time/likes/dislikes as most important, being inflexible, losing their sense of humor and grace.)

DSC_0486In doing all these, I practice hypocrisy right in front of them.

I was all set to wallow in this (oh, how often I forget the second part of repentance: to turn TO God) when I remembered a conversation I had earlier this fall with my mother-in-law. She shared that one Sunday morning a few weeks before, she’d been disgruntled. She’d snapped at her husband and said harsh words to her granddaughter (who was staying with them at the time). Though she then apologized, she’d gone to church still bruised with guilt. Once there she remembered she was supposed to serve communion. She leaned over to her husband and whispered, “I don’t think I should serve communion this morning.”

DSC_0490When she told me this story, she paused at this point. Then she said, “A few minutes later, Dad passed me a note. He’d written Romans 8:1 out for me to read. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

“I served communion,” she told me.

She served it—and took it—in the exact mindset in which we should always participate in communion: authentic gratitude.

The Holy Spirit brought this conversation to mind because I, too, was being invited into communion. In my state of guilt and hopelessness, my eyes were drawn to Christ, to His broken body and spilt blood that accomplished for me what I have no possibility of accomplishing for myself. I was invited, once again, to move from death to life, to receive grace.

Suddenly, I longed to have my children home from school. I looked forward to the moment when I could pull them close and say, “I’m sorry, truly sorry.”

From death to life, once again.

The blessing of communion.

 

Communion Transformed

DSC_0269Communion terrified me for much of my growing-up years. Not because I believed I was ingesting real flesh and blood—oh, no. My father, a converted Catholic, was quite clear on his teaching against that. But he was also very clear regarding the I Corinthians verses about the Lord’s Supper. I got the message: Communion was NOT to be taken lightly. I was to do some self-examining prior to partaking and my attitude should be serious.

He needn’t have worried. I was SERIOUS!

As the pastor read from either I Corinthians or the Gospels, I would wrench my spirit, examining my life for sin. “Oh, God, please, please show me. I don’t want to do this in an unworthy manner,” I would pray, rolodex-ing through my past few days, looking for sins I had committed.

I don’t remember ever taking the little pill tablet of bread or the small cup of grape juice with joy. It was always with fear—“Did I do okay? Did I find everything to confess?”

Thankfully, that is no longer the case. I take Communion now as a symbol of Christ’s doing what I cannot do: (though I tried to for years on years) to rid myself of sin.

But there is another ironic change. I view sin differently, perhaps, oddly enough, more seriously than I did then.

Because I have realized it goes far deeper in my soul than I once thought it did.

I am “steeped” in sin. I like that description. The Pharisees used it when speaking to the man born blind—since, of course, his blindness proved that either his mother or he must have been more sinful than most—hence the blindness.

The word “steeped” makes me think of tea—the teabag infusing the entire pot—or of a chicken cooked all day in a sauce—till every bite of meat tastes of it. Separated from the goodness of God that I need at my very core, my being instead has steeped in my own selfishness. Hurtful actions, attitudes, and words are merely outpourings of this “steeping.”

I remember a Seinfeld episode in which George decided to do the opposite of all his natural impulses. It worked well for him—because every one of his natural impulses was actually destructive to either himself, others, or to relationship between himself and others.

If my sin issues are deeper than my actions or words, even thoughts… If my sin is actually the belief that I am most important in the universe—more important than any other person and certainly than God… If my sin is an attitude of self-sufficiency, of conviction that I am good and right—and, therefore, that anyone who disagrees with me is wrong…

Then the problem is not what I do, what I say, what I feel.

The problem is me, myself, I.

And I need transformation.

And I need to stop settling for conformation.

Back to communion.

My fears were based on the wrong belief that God wants conformation.

But Communion itself bears witness against this. If God wanted conformation, our sacrament would result in us putting something on, something that could be seen by others, like a perpetual Ash Wednesday.

But the commanded sacrament—“Do THIS in remembrance of Me”—is an ingestion that does not seem to change our outer selves at all. Eat of me, Christ says. Drink of me. Take Me into yourselves. Let Me be the nutrients that change you on the inside.

And “Do” this, present tense and ongoing. Again and again we must remember that Christ came to change the inner first. His work on the cross was complete—I am not saying that He must die again and again, oh, no—but I forget so easily and settle for conformity because I believe I can do that work myself.

So we take communion over and over and are reminded that He is in us, creating new hearts within, that THIS inner transformation is the substance of our faith, and outer change is merely the reflection, the outworking.

I no longer need to be terrified—either of my sin or that God is check-marking my confessions against a list of outward actions. What a wonderful change!

I take the wine: His blood covered and still covers my sin.

I take the bread: He is IN me!

The two together equal communion: friendship between human and GOD!

The terror is gone.

And I celebrate.

Communion

We had communion this past Sunday. I love taking communion, its reminder of the very core of our redemption. If I were a poet, I would write something beautiful about how the bread sits on my tongue a moment longer than it needs to. I postpone sliding it between my teeth, hesitate before biting down on it. “My body, broken for you.” My inner ear hears the small wafer break; my jaw feels the crunch and the release, and I see and feel in a different way Christ’s body being smacked about by the huge, meaty hands of Roman soldiers, His flesh being torn and ripped by the multi-barbed whip, pierced by heavy nails. “My body, broken for you.” I am glad for the time our pastor gives before he prompts us to take up the plastic cup, filled with juice in my church. “My blood, shed for you.” I pour the grape juice into my mouth. It gathers bits of the cracker as it makes its way to the back of my throat and then down, down into my stomach. So much blood–shed in great beads of sweat, in flying droplets of red rain, in a head-to-toe-covering slick, and finally, in a gushing torrent, blood and water mixed, the elements of redemption and purification finally, ultimately provided from a pure, single source. “My blood, shed for you.”

So that we do not bite and devour each other, and ourselves, He was devoured. So that we do not bleed to death from the wounds of our sin, He bled.

Broken body, shed blood.

Amazing redemption.