DANG IT I PACKED A TURKEY SANDWICH FOR LUNCH AGAIN.
Deep breaths. Deep breaths through the fact that I’m utterly failing everything I set up for myself in observance of Lent (how Lentian, perhaps). Deep breaths through having had a week of incredibly stressful travel and being unable to find my footing on returning to this life I’ve made that increasingly seems almost foreign. Deep breaths through yet another meeting, yet another task, yet another extroverted moment when all my introvert heart wants is to curl up and read for a day. Deep breaths through a lunch eaten at my desk as an afterthought, the thousandth of such lunches and breakfasts where I eat because the clock tells me to.
One of the two sacraments that survived the transition from the Catholic Church to the Protestant ones is that of communion, the Eucharist. I recently heard a professor say that the Protestants have made it unrecognizable from what it was originally as a sacrament, but I’ve no desire to get into that here. I’ve also no desire to get into what the meal is. I want to get into the fact that this is the one people know—the bread and the cup, the Last Supper, that moment when Jesus says some crazy stuff about dinner.
This is the one that, honestly, is hardest for me. There are many reasons why, but you don’t need to know them, Reader. What you do need to know is this crazy story about a man and a woman and some soup with bread.
Here’s the thing: I don’t like soup. I’ve never liked soup. The older I get, however, and the longer I live in places that get cold for part of the year, the more I realize that whether I like soup or not is somewhat irrelevant. I’m going to have to eat soup sometimes, especially because well-meaning people serve it to me and there’s simply no point in continually reiterating that I don’t like soup because they will tell me that this is because I haven’t had their soup and proceed to serve me their soup and I will have to be polite about it. So I’ve developed a sort of cultural resignation toward soup, an attitude where I won’t necessarily choose it but I no longer refuse to eat it. This past week I had a rather intense couple of days of driving and stayed with a very kind couple whom I had never met before and who had graciously made dinner.
Which was, of course, soup.
It was fine soup and I was very much aware of the gesture of the thing, but the best part of the dinner was that there was this bread, a honey-sunflower-seed wheat bread that was fresh from the oven and warm and crackly and wonderful. It was soft to a perfect degree of softness and crusty but not painfully so and just damned delicious. I ate rather a lot of that bread, smeared with real butter because this was the country and that’s how it’s done.
I say all of this not to go all Instagram on you (don’t worry, there are no photos of this bread) but to showcase this incredibly ordinary moment of communion. That was not the sacrament, to be sure, but it shared the origins of the sacrament. Jesus’ conversation with His disciples, His friends, was at a dinner table; it was taking the things of the meal and reshaping them. He didn’t go out to Kroger and buy bread and wine specially to make a point like show and tell. He used what was already in front of Him, pieces left from a ritual already drenched in sacredness both by its religious connections and the very necessity of eating to maintain this frustratingly blessed thing called a body.
Communion is done in a thousand ways these days; some go for intinction, some are fed by the priest, some have the pre-packaged wafer and grape juice, some will only serve crackers, some separate the wine from the bread and devour fistfuls of the latter in the delight of breaking fast. It has had some super bizarre moments of importance in the past. But hopefully the concept always remains—in this act we remember that Christ sat down and ate with those who loved Him (and those who didn’t) and said this will be a new world. This will be a new way, a way that takes what you understand and turns it upside down but I will be there with you always, I will be in and through this act of remembrance because I am bringing you into Me and into relationship with all the parts of Myself.
Eating is a powerful bonding experience. I don’t know why, but I designed an entire service-based house on the idea when I was in college and I believe still that the best way to join people together is over food and drink. Whole relationships have been shaped by coffee for me, others forged over sandwiches and Gatorade or shared Kit-Kat bars that break apart to bring together. For God to put a meal at the heart of this faith is gutsy and genius and utterly, utterly human; we have to eat. This is an earthy thing wrapped in such divine understandings that it points us in receiving it to deeper aspects of this faith life—somewhat like accepting soup because the bread is so delicious and so freely offered.