I’m not one for posting on Sundays, but as I was considering the communion table last night, I couldn’t resist.
*****There is power in the body and blood. There is something to that bread and wine.
Today I’ll gather with my people in a small basement warehouse in Fayetteville, Arkansas. We’re Christians in the Anglican tradition, a people who sing hymns, recite the Creed, listen to the scriptures, confess, and pray. These were the ways of our fathers’ fathers’ fathers, and believing them to be led into the wilderness of the world by the Spirit, we follow.
Upstairs, in space with street level access, a larger congregation meets. They are a more raucous congregation, and their music seeps through their floor, falls from our ceiling. On occasion, their kick drum shakes the dust from the rafters, and our quiet group looks at each other with half-smiles. They are different than us—yes—but they gather to sing their own hymns, listen to the scriptures, confess, and pray.
We are two congregations occupying a shared space separated by little more than a thin wall. This is the way of the broader church.
Though we may vary in the style of our gathering, at some point during the service, both congregations will turn to the table. And here’s the real beauty—this is not just the way at Fayetteville Anglican, or Thrive Bible Church, but it’s also the way of Grace Church, New Heights Bible, St. Joseph’s Catholic, and Mt. Comfort Church of Christ. It’s the way of your tiny church in backwoods Nebraska, or her tabernacle gathering in Brooklyn. It’s the way of the church of Tel Aviv and Burundi. We are distinct in congregations, yes, but we share a common distinctive—the bread and wine; the body and blood.
At his last supper, Jesus lifted up the bread, gave thanks and passed it to his disciples saying, “take, eat; this is my body.” He took the cup next, and when he had given thanks, he passed it too, said, “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.” This was the grand moment, the moment when his words were fulfilled. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood,” he said, “abides in me, and I in him.”
Cannibalism? No. Communion, union? Yes.
This was the last supper, but it was also the first supper. It was the institution of the quantum supper of unity, the one that stretched from its point of origin into all time, filing its partakers with particular purpose. It has endured throughout the centuries, has cut through various cultural, socio-economic, and liturgical contexts. The bread and wine was the staple offering of the first century Church, and is the same for today’s middle-class American Church. It is the feast of the underground church in Djibouti, and was the most holy meal of the twenty-one Coptic Christians who were beheaded on the shores of Libya. The Eucharist, communion, the Lord’s Supper—this is the meal that marks us as belonging to The Family.
Since the night of its institution, there has never been a Sunday when bread was not broken and wine was not imbibed in memory of Christ. And though some congregations celebrate it weekly, some monthly, and some quarterly, we all celebrate it. In that way, the very words of Jesus—this is my body; this is my blood—continue. They stretch across the years and fill us; they stick to the roof of our mouths, slosh down into our bellies.
I think often about the kind of church we are becoming, especially here in the West. I suppose I could spend one thousand words expounding, critiquing, perhaps even blistering a Church that has forgotten its distinctiveness, its set-apart-ness from the world. I suppose that would be an exercise in futility, pride, and perhaps cynicism. Instead, let me offer this. When we remember the body and blood—when we take, eat, and drink—we are brought to the Family table. And there, we realize that we are a strange people, who use strange words, and carry a strange hope. But this strange hope, is the hope of the world.
Take; eat; drink. Today, remember.
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