When one of my boys was five years old, he came to us after church and announced that he was ready to accept Jesus as his Savior. I was suspicious because we had taken communion that morning and I had stopped him from partaking (in our flavor of Christianity, communion comes after a profession of faith in Christ) with a quick whispered explanation about why he needed to wait. So after his announcement, I dug a bit and asked what had led to this decision. He said, “Sometimes I get kinda hungry at church.” I assured him that it wasn’t so helpful as a snack, as the portions are pretty small and then tried to explain at a five year old level what communion is. But that’s hard because I can’t quite get a hold of communion. It’s a weird process. It doesn’t fit with the more comfortable rituals of my faith like Bible reading, service or prayer.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:26-28
The words Jesus uses are weird. Eat my body. Drink my blood. I only understand the outskirts of what’s going on there, of what that means. I think he’s saying something like, “My suffering and death have to become a part of you.” If I want to follow him, I must partake of his broken body – acknowledge it in a primal, visceral way, and take it for myself because I need it. It makes me uncomfortable. Taking communion requires very little of me. All of the power and control lay outside of me. While the lazy part of me appreciates this, the fact that I can’t manage it or excel at it – who ever heard of a communion warrior – throws me off. I need something I can’t provide for myself.
In Letters to Malcolm, C.S. Lewis spoke of communion…
Here a hand from the hidden country touches not only my soul but my body. Here the prig, the don, the modern in me have no privilege over the savage or the child. Here is big medicine and strong magic. The command, after all, was ‘Take, eat,’ not ‘Take, understand.’
I love that balance and conflict of medicine and magic. My modern, western mind chaffs against what I can’t understand or define in a textbook, but at a place that lies deeper than my culture, I know I need something less definable but… more. I need to understand but I also need things that are not understandable.
A few years ago my husband was in the middle of a battle with cancer. He was half way through eighteen months of chemo, and his treatment was not going well. Things weren’t hopeless, but they were grim, and we had four young children. The burden of my current circumstances along with all of the looming possibilities was physically overwhelming to me. It was Sunday, and I had taken the boys to church. I sent my older kids in to the service while I took my toddler to the nursery. I walked in to a packed sanctuary and found my guys on the front row. I knew my emotional state called for the back row and maybe sunglasses, but part of the beauty and burden of walking through cancer with kids in tow is that they force you into the world when your inclination is to hide. I was having a particularly hard day and couldn’t hold it together through the service. At the close of the service, I walked forward to receive communion, and then sat down and closed my eyes as my fellow congregants filed in front of me. I heard over and over again, “The body of Christ broken for you.” And that truth soaked into my heart and my body and eased my heavy load. Christ suffered with me and for me. The body of Christ broken for me, not historically and intellectually and from the outside. Intimate. Visceral. Big medicine and strong magic.