What I need

mads eye

This is daughter Em’s work–she took this shot of her younger sister’s eye as part of her digital photo final exam. No relation to this post–just wanted to share.

I dabbled in studying the Trinity this past fall. I learned much, but learned more than anything that I’d merely left the shore to sit in a rowboat on the ocean’s surface in order to peer into the depths. I was able to see further into the water from the boat than I had on land but was also able to see that beneath me were fathoms upon fathoms of mystery and beauty.

I realized I could spend my life studying the Trinity and still be snorkeling in the shallows.

Yet even the shallows are amazingly wonderful! The very idea of a three-in-one God, a God who is three persons distinct yet sharing the same essence, so full of love for one another that this love overflows into and onto creation…

Is incredible, simply incredible.

As I read about and marveled at the Trinity, a conversation from a couple years ago kept coming back to me. I’d never forgotten this conversation because it made me uncomfortable. I left it feeling I’d said the wrong thing, but my studies of the Trinity gave me insight into why I said what I did.

My doorbell rang one day while the kids were at school, and I opened my door to find two women who wanted to tell me about their faith. They were both older than I, and even though I didn’t invite them in because they seemed a little nervous of the dog, I found myself wanting to fetch a chair for the older of the two, a woman older than my mother. We began with what we agreed on, and our talk was cordial. But then I asked them about Jesus. “What do you believe about him?”

Distress built in me as the older woman talked about a mere human who’d simply been so incredibly good that he was, so to speak, “adopted” by God. God’s son? Yes. But was he God’s eternal Son, ONE with the Father and the Spirit, of the same essence? No.

I am not “good” in these situations. Scripture references, logic, and reasoning—all these flee, chased out by passion and fear. My brain scrambles to put together a clear plan, or to follow one of several I thought of after previous conversations like this one, but all I can do is send up a plea for help.

So, with these two beautiful women standing in front of me, brushing aside every question I had about Jesus being one with the Father, about Jesus being the Word that was in the beginning with God, I prayed. Holy Spirit, please come.

What came was not what I’d hoped for—a list of Scripture references clearly laid out. No, what came was sorrow. These women were unnecessarily trapped; they’d placed their hope in a lie. If Jesus was human only, if his death was accepted only because he’d lived a perfect life before it…

…then his sacrifice would have only made the way clear for himself, not for me, nor for these women. He would be no more than an example—“Look at him; do it exactly this way!”—an example we are incapable of duplicating.

I asked more questions, but the distress grew until it burst out of me: “But if Jesus wasn’t God, He couldn’t help me! I don’t want a human savior; what good would that do? I need God Himself to save me! No one else could!”

The rest of the conversation was still cordial, but they didn’t stay long after my comment. I told them I would love for them to come back, but I haven’t seen them again.

This is the conversation I kept remembering as I read about the Trinity this fall. I realized the longing I’d felt was not simply for a divine Savior. It was bigger, wider, deeper. It was for a Triune God who has such an excess of love within the Father, Son, and Spirit relationship that this love cannot help but overflow. It was a longing for a God who also longs for me; who deeply desires to restore the broken relationship with his creation and did this very thing through the Son; who draws us by the Spirit into true relationship with God, with neighbor.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of our God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit abide with us, now and forever.

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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.