Communion. Eucharist. The Divine Meal. What does it all mean? Why do churches partake in this every Sunday, or twice a year, or in between church services the first Sunday of the month? Why are there so many arguments about what it means from a theological standpoint?
Throughout Christian history, so much has been said on Eucharist and what it means. I grew up Catholic, so Communion was very particular. We had a lot of rules and a lot of regulations. I took lessons for my First Communion when I was in 2nd grade, an event I wore a clean and white dress for. When I look back to that day, I remember feeling excluded by my peers, but I can’t remember why. I think they wouldn’t let me take a photo with them. My teacher was nice enough to take a photo with me. But then when I ate the paper flakes and drank the wine, it felt Holy.
I was an altar server for awhile, so I can’t tell you how many times I watched the Catholic Transfiguration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood. To this day, however, I still don’t quite understand the concept. What I did understand? That there were a LOT of rules. I had to do confession twice a year. I had to keep going to Mass. I couldn’t get married outside the church. I couldn’t get divorced. I couldn’t have sex. All of these things would limit access to the Eucharist.
When I went to Protestant churches later on, the little juice cups got passed around with the little bread pieces attached… or at chapels in college, I’d tear off a piece of bread and dip it in the juice. I no longer believed that I was eating the Body of Jesus Christ, but something kept drawing me back to it.
When I would attend Catholic Mass for funerals, I knew I was not allowed to have Communion, so I would sit in my pew, respectful of the limitations… even when others did not allow the restrictions to stop them. Part of me was frustrated with it. Fine, if I wasn’t allowed to do it, then I would not. Let them see me. I was angry. I was hurt.
About one year ago, I wandered into Sojourn Grace. At this point in my church search, I had decided not to do communion. I’m not sure exactly what inspired me to feel set on this, but I was set on it. I don’t remember the first sermon I heard by Colby, but I do know that I was impressed. But not as impressed as what happened next. I’ve been trying to write about this moment for months, but I can’t find the words to tell you what it did.
Communion, Colby announced, was something they did every week together. I already rolled my eyes. Dear God, a WEEKLY communion church?! I haven’t done that since I was Catholic. Who are these people? So religious… Communion in the church, Colby explained with some noticeable frustration in his voice, has been used to exclude people from the Table. Oh. I leaned forward in my chair a little more. This was… different. But Jesus? The frustration in Colby’s voice disappeared and you could hear the excitement as he explained it: Jesus spent his time including people and inviting those to the Table that the religious leaders didn’t want there. Jesus didn’t set rules and regulations for the Table; He just invited people. Come, as you are. Eat with me. Spend time with me. In the times of Scripture, eating together at the Table defined who you were by the people who were around it. So the religious leaders didn’t want people they considered unclean to eat with them. They used it to separate. But Jesus invited everyone. He was all about radical inclusion. He used it to bring together all people, as they were.
A few weeks later, I remember him joking… Communion was intended for radical inclusion without restriction… how quick did Christians mess than one up? This was joke he quickly apologized for because it was sassy, but MAN did it settle with me… and how much I had felt hurt in knowing that I was not “deserving” of Eucharist. It was being used, at the church I grew up at, for the intention of excluding people not religious enough.
Needless to say, I have gotten communion every single week that I have been at Sojourn. Not because it is what Good Christians TM do, which is why this former Good Catholic would get it… but because every single week, it is a reminder that all are invited to the table. We all receive the inclusion pass to sit together and celebrate life, or mourn life, or just to be together and eat. “You.. and you… and you…and you,” as Colby sometimes says, looking around the room, “are welcome at and invited to the Table.”
Today was special for me. I was grumpy this morning and almost didn’t go to church. But I did. I was a little more spacey than usual during the sermon, but I took notes and tried to pay attention. When it was time for communion, Colby offered this explanation about nature and being barefoot, and how some people feel more connected to the earth this way. I laughed because I could relate. Being barefoot is a holy act for me. They had grass or something for people to step on when they went up for communion (I literally go to the weirdest church and I love it.) But then I was in my spacey moment when I heard, “Jaymie, you want to serve communion with me?” I literally looked around, as there ARE other Jamies, and said, “Me?” And Colby nodded, people laughed, and I ran up.
I was not perfect in my holding the cup of juice, but the moment was interesting. A lady came up and while usually people dip their bread, she wanted to take a sip from the cup. I PANICKED. Every part of the “rules-based” teachings I experienced came back. I didn’t let her. Colby tried to fix it, but it was too late and the lady walked away. I felt stupid when I thought about it for more than two seconds, and I felt myself think, “I don’t know what the rules are!” The moment that thought entered my brain, I realized how much I still hold onto rules. I may give them a different face or hairstyle, but they still exist, bursting at the seams of my existence. I learned my lesson, but too late for the sweet lady who just wanted to partake in the moment with all of us. Hopefully she didn’t experience feeling exclusion, but man. What a moment that was. I have so much to learn. I have practiced receiving radical inclusion, and now I am learning how to give that out.
But it was incredible for me, a year or so after that first moment of understanding what it meant for radical inclusion, to relearn communion, to ALMOST be able to practice that on the other side. There is nothing more exciting to me than learning how to give grace, give love, and give a sense of community… and those are the things Jesus was offering with a spot at the table. And they are hopefully things I will be able to offer people at higher and higher success rates as I continue to relearn what Jesus was really all about.