Tag Archive for: Eucharist

What is True (My 40th Confession)

I’ve crossed the threshold into life’s second half. Forty; four decades; one-half of eighty. The exuberance of my twenties is gone, the thought that the world was somehow mine to take by the tail. The gut punch of the thirties is a memory too, the winded nausea that results from anything overwrought. Thank God Almighty.

Forty came, somehow, like the morning sun waking Bayou Desiard. It settled in, patient as the heron on the bank, waiting. It was the daybreak that cleared the fog.

In the weeks of waking before my birthday, I turned to intentional reflection. I set out to make note of the things I believe, the things I’ve learned, the things I’ve experienced in my body as true. I explored the ideas I’d yet to practice too, the places where knowing hadn’t translated to proper doing. And as the sun rose over the stretch of my beliefs, experiences, and shortcomings, I caught a reflection of my true self in those waters.

As for the things I’ve experienced as true, they are few. The sound of a Martin guitar on the front porch. The smell of hiding in  my grandma’s cedar chest. Mulberry jam. The mesquite grove. The scissor-tailed flycatcher. Love. Marriage. Sex. And this: the way bread and wine transforms under the words of institution; the way those man-made, God-given gifts become (no matter what men say) the body and blood of Christ; the way the bread sticks to the ribs, his body becoming part of our body; the way the wine sucks the damned poison from our DNA, the way it eases the pain; how the sacrifice of Christ becomes more than a good idea; how the Eucharist is life.

(For more of my Eucharist story, follow this link and listen to “Dispatches, Vol. 2.”)

True sacrifice is a mirror, and what is a truer sacrifice than body and blood given for the life of the world? What is a truer mirror?

This, I suppose, leads me to the confession. As I turned to examination of the things I’d believed but hadn’t practiced, I saw this in the mirror: the way I paid lip service to the poor and marginalized, maybe even made financial sacrifices on their behalf before patting myself on the back; the way I’d thought and thought and thought about the trouble of the orphan, even how I’ve written about it; the way I’ve thrown my two-cents into Twitter’s coin slot and hoped the responses would end up triple 7s. It’s easy to get behind the idea of service. Wearing service like a rumpled suit, though, is a different story.

Last night, I spoke with my friend, Enneagram coach and Jedi force-wielder, Chris Hueretz. We talked through my proposentity to think, to strategize, to turn that thinking and strategy to written words, maybe even financial sacrifice. I shared my reflections with him and said, “I have this working theory that seventy… maybe eighty… no, ninety percent of our power complexes, interpersonal struggles, and political hand-wringing would work itself out if we’d just put our bodies in the way of sacrificial service.” He laughed, knowing this was a sort of epiphanal awakening for a Five (wing 4) Enneagram type. Between laughs, he gave it to me straight: You think?

I’ve pushed into my fortieth year of living, and I suppose I’m ready to put this on the page. I’m ready to stop thinking about service, about offering my own body and blood for the sake of the world. I’m ready to live into the thing I know to be true. Sacrifice, body and blood, Eucharist—this is supposed to be our way of being; it’s the gift we’re supposed to carry to the world.

What’s this mean for me in the years to come? I haven’t figured it all out yet, but I’m exploring. And in that exploration, I’m hoping to work my way into a sort of Eucharistic integrity, by which I mean this: the integrity of a life conforming to holy sacrifice. Without that, what does it mean to be Christian?

 

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You are Fraud; You are Family

There is a universal secret, a uniform truth so many of us tuck between the religious things we read from notecards. (Secrets, secrets they’re no fun; they seem to weigh a metric ton.) What’s the secret?

So many of us feel like frauds.

On an average Sunday evening, I gather with a liturgical community in a sacred space rented from an evangelical, non-denominational, non-liturgical church. The bell rings, the cross processes down the aisle, and I cannot help but notice the elongated shadows of our sister church, haunting. I imagine the morning crowd, now at their evening home groups, or maybe at home with their families, or doing whatever it is they do on a Sunday evening. I fix their faces in my imagination, even as I bow to the passing brass cross. I imagine all those morning church folk, and as I look at the shadows between my sneakers, I see the scattered crumbs of their own fraud-feelings.

The morning folk–did they come hoping to put these secrets to death? Did they come hoping that fresh faith would somehow kill the nagging doubt or hypocrisy or abivilance? Perhaps not all, but certainly some. And the evening folk, are we any different?

Universal truths are universal for reason.

If you listen to the voices beyond the voices in any worship service, the internal echo of things we hear but don’t say, you’ll find the revenant. It’s Thomas, Peter, maybe even Judas. You know they are in you. You know you need an exorcism from the voices.

Lord, I’m not feeling any of this; help my unbelief.

On an average Sunday evening, though, there is a moment of mass exorcism. There is bread and wine. There is us—all in our counterfeit sainthood—confessing our saggy fraudulence together.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

The bread is lifted; light streams through the baptismal window illuminating an eternal circle of grain. Eclipsing the sun, a corona of truth hems the host, driving every shadow of doubt back to hellfire. Broken, bread crumbs flit down to the chalice of wine. I enter the line, expecting something. (Who knows what?) I take and eat. I drink.

This is the stuff.

Even in my fitful faith, I sense the alchemy. Those crumbs, the smallest ones now soaked in blood, have the power to change me into something more than shadows. They have the power to change my neighbor, too. They have the power to meld the evening church folk and the morning church folk. This is the meal that turns frauds to family.

 

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Take. Eat. Remember. (Our Distinctiveness)

I’m not one for posting on Sundays, but as I was considering the communion table last night, I couldn’t resist.

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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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My Completely Irrational, Unscientific, Orthodox, Fringe System of Belief (Advent, Part 4)

Recently, a co-worker asked whether we’ve reached the place in American culture where Christianity is seen as a fringe system of belief. I rattled off nine reasons why, if we’re honest, Christianity should be considered a fringe system of belief to those in the world at large. This Advent season, I’m exploring these beliefs and offering a somewhat surprising conclusion. Today, I’ll explore reason number 4. 

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MY COMPLETELY IRRATIONAL, UNSCIENTIFIC, ORTHODOX, FRINGE SYSTEM OF BELIEF

POINT 1: We believe in an invisible, eternal, Supreme Power who created the world with a few words. 

POINT 2:  We believe that the Supreme Power became small and stepped into his own creation.

POINT 3:  We believe that Jesus was born into poverty, oppression, and scandal.

POINT 4: We believe that Jesus grew into a man who taught salvation by way of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

Jesus was a man of awkward metaphors. To a samaritan women drawing water from a well, he offered “living water.” He instructed a Jewish teacher to be “born again.” One apocryphal text indicates that the boy Jesus was blocking a doorway out of which his little brother Jude was trying look so as to see the setting sun. Jude quipped, “you’d make a better door than a window, Jesus,” to which Jesus responded said, “how right you are.” (See generally 1 Haines’ Imagination 4:32.)

In the book of John, Jesus is seen tending to the needs of the masses. God of the creative word, he takes five loaves and two fish and breathes a blessing of multiplication over them. Under this reenactment of Genesis, the pittance of a meal undergoes a sort of mitotic multiplication, grows exponentially until the entire crowd is fed, with leftovers to boot.

Days later, the same crowd comes to Jesus, hungry again. Pressing him, they ask for yet another meal. Jesus, though, swings the engagement toward a teachable moment. Knowing they would trade the spiritual truth for a full belly, Jesus denies them another gustative miracle. Instead, he seizes the opportunity to wax eloquent (if not in grotesque metaphors) about true food. Jesus says,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

As modern believers in the Christian story, our post death-and-resurrection context neuters this teaching. We read the text, see through to the metaphor of the matter. Yes, Jesus said that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, but what he really meant is that we must accept his death burial and resurrection. What he really meant was that a cracker and Welch’s grape juice would suffice. The Jewish audience of the day would not have been blessed with such high-minded modern notions, though. They would have been aghast. In fact, in a private moment his own disciples confronted him. “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” they said. Jesus shrugged off their criticism, said, “do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” In other words, “I’m the God-son, fellas. You’d better get used to hard teachings and awkward metaphors.”

This Advent we celebrate the coming of Jesus, creative Word made flesh. We celebrate, too, the reason for his coming. He came to bring us awkward metaphors? Yes. But he came, too, to bring us spiritual food and drink. He came to bring us living bread and water. He came so we could feast on his body and blood.

Does this sounds like a tenet of a fringe system of belief? Good. It should.

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Thank you for reading. Follow along this Advent season as I explore my Completely Irrational, Unscientific, Orthodox, Fringe System of Belief.

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*Photo by David Antis, Creative Commons via Flickr.

 

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