a shared meal

I’ve long had a thing about food.

It’s far too complicated a history to unwrap here, but food has never been an easy thing for me, too attached to comfort and desire and shame and pain.

My feelings about food are linked to my feelings about my body, my sexuality, my heart, and it has always been an uncomfortable thing for me to share a meal with other people because it feels like vulnerability and exposure.

Of course, sharing meals and eating in public is what we do, so I do it a lot…but never without a twinge of discomfort.

The shared meal is a big part of Christianity and church community, but it’s one of my wounded places, so when there is talk of the importance of a shared meal, I tend to shut down. If there’s an event at church that involves a potluck then a talk, I slide in in time for the talk.

But the shared meal that is so important in the Church isn’t just the chili cook-off, it’s the Eucharist meal. We receive, kneeling, shoulder to shoulder, at the table together. We make our offering, leave whatever it is we are going to leave at the altar, together, in close physical proximity to one another.

We like each other, we don’t like each other, it doesn’t matter. We are in this together.

What speaks to me, what I need spiritually, is high church - silver chalice, incense, pageantry, ethereal choral voices, sun through stained glass - but I do sometimes think about the way early Christians would have shared Communion, how they would have literally broken bread together, around a table, in someone’s home.

It moves me to think to of this, to imagine myself in such an environment.

The tenderness, the bravery, the faith of it.

I find the words of Holy Communion to be among the most beautiful in the Book of Common Prayer.

And I suppose this is as good a time as any to tell you, I have never thought of Communion as symbolic.

It is because of my belief in real presence (I lean toward transubstantiation pretty hard) that I didn’t receive the Eucharist for several years of my life. Probably closer to a decade.

Even though in the eyes of the Church and certainly in the eyes of Christ, I was welcomed to that table, I was confused and wasn’t sure where I stood with Christianity, and it didn’t feel right to me to receive the Body and Blood of Christ into my body.

When I returned to church and began to reconcile myself to my faith, there were two things that kept me coming back - the sermons, which never failed to cause my skin to break out into truth bumps, and what happened within me when I received the Eucharist - both inside my body at the moment of receiving and my soul, during the week.

The Eucharist, I came to understand, is transformative.

It heals.

It is so intimate, this ritual, I can usually not bear to look into the eyes of the person who is serving Communion it to me.

It is the most holy and transcendent moment of my week, the moment when I remember who and what I am and to whom I belong, into what I am baptized.

I am a ritual person and this is the ritual that saves me, weekly.

I want everyone who wants it to have it. (I am pro “open table,” in case you were wondering; if you ever come to church with me I will remind you, they’re not checking IDs at the altar. )

I think we should take it out into the streets, into our parks, everywhere there are people who are hurting or confused or isolated or just wondering; everywhere people are joyous or celebrating or hopeful.

We have this medicine. We have this profound love to share.

We should share it.

Everything I’ve told you here is true and yet, it was only very recently, and for a brief moment that I think I understood the Eucharist. Or, partially understood it.

I was at the Blue Christmas service at the cathedral.

This is a service offered every year during Advent for those who are grieving or hurting or otherwise not feeling the happy boisterous Christmas feelings.

It’s a quiet service, with soft language and an opportunity to write down what is burdening your heart and leave it in a bowl to be prayed over, to light candles, and to cry if you feel like crying.

For all my love of high church, this is not high church, but I love it also.

It is beautiful, and that’s why I go, whether or not I am grieving. (Though, aren’t we always grieving something?)

This year, as I watched the celebrant prepare Communion, something happened.

Maybe it was because of the soft nature of the service. Maybe it was because the bread and wine were served in earthenware ceramics rather than silver, but for some reason, I thought, really thought about the last meal of Jesus.

Not just the Universal Christ, but the actual man Jesus.

I imagined the scene, the table, what it must have been like to be seated around it.

God had come into us, into the world in human form, and now he was going to leave his body in a most horrific way. Jesus, as he shared a meal with his followers, his friends, knew what was coming. He knew what he as asking them to do. This was at once a goodbye and an eternal union.

It struck me, suddenly and briefly, the incredible kindness and love in that meal, the importance of breaking bread and sharing wine together, the importance of the community table.

What it means to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with one another, seen by one another, take nourishment with one another.

Allow that famous depiction of the Last Supper to leave your mind for a moment. When you picture that table, know that women were there. Know that Mary Magdalene was seated there, with them, with him, touching him, her hand on his arm, her palm to his cheek.

Know there would have been laughter and melancholy and beauty.

I have never been to a Passover Seder, but I like to think there was honey on the table, and figs.

I like to think there was the sweet aroma of candle wax.

I like to think there was singing.

Hearts were open, and broken, so they could be opened wider.

You see, I can’t write about it. I can’t explain it. I can’t tell you what I understood in that moment, only that for a couple of seconds, I did understand it.

On Sunday, as always, I will bring my wounded self up the aisle. I likely won’t be able to meet the gaze of the person who places the Body of Christ into my hands.

Nevertheless, the Body of Christ will move in my body. The Blood of Christ will move in my blood.

Even when I cannot love myself, I can allow myself to be loved by God.

Even when I cannot allow myself to be loved by God, God loves me.

My story is only a story. I own it, I live in it, but I am also separate from it. I am both corporal and eternal.

I am wedded to the cross on the altar and to those who kneel beside me and to those who serve at the altar and to this human life and to this creation and to God.

That is how Communion works, binding what is broken, binding us together.

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