Stepping into the unlikely role of a pastor's wife brought me face to face with some church practices I hadn't thought much about recently. The one I least expected inner pushback on was holy communion. Sure, it might make some parents grab their kids and run from the sanctuary if not initiated into this unlikely communal ritual as children. But I was an old-timer - albeit MIA for a bit.
The liturgy's language is disarming if you're not used to it. Drinking blood and eating flesh isn't for lightweights, even if richly symbolic. Many Christians are so accustomed to it they cannot hear just how disturbing the words are to the man off the street. Admitting they bother you may draw looks that ask why you're there. To the uninitiated, it's likely to be confusing and distasteful. But, for most Christians, it's non negotiable. The words carry power through story - spiritual power. The words must be understood outside of today's paradigms. Those who don't get it are simply asked to be patient until they do.
When non-church-goers visit for the first time, I've cringed a little when my husband recites this part of the sacrament. But when his arms rise in the air holding the bread, breaking it and saying those very same words, I'm often moved to tears. It's a paradox. This is probably partly what deepens the experience.
Paradox characterizes our life journey, and juxtaposing these words against the compassionate, love rebel image of Jesus most of us hold only tells the paradoxical tale of life louder. Especially when heard from our cultural paradigm. The paradox makes the experience more alive than many words we recite in church. They reflect the polarized and powerful opposites that make life what it is - the good, the bad, and the ugly. When there's no personal connection to words, they fall and leave us empty. This is the weakest link for church that resists change.
Jesus used imagery that surrendered himself, emphasizing he be remembered. This imagery reflected coming to the end of yourself, while being open to receiving new life. It beautifully demonstrates the cyclical nature of all life. No stagnancy. Constant flow. Life is violent and bloody, we hunger and thirst, and are fueled by love. The honest spiritual walk is raw and demands we let the self die - letting go of the ego to take on the Christ spirit - operating from non-duality, and in the love of God.
But he also emphasized that we do something. We were to partake in an action together. And in the course of this action, we were to remember.
Do and remember.
That's how learning embeds itself in our memory. Physical response coupled with intention.
This is the way.
Even with the occasional,momentary cringe, holy communion is the most beautiful and powerful part of any church service. Everyone participates as one. Humility flows from their hearts as they approach. It always moves me. It fills me with the deepest love I know for each person there - and those missing that complete the circle we call our church. I can't think of anything more beautiful than this.
The memory of that fateful last night of Jesus' life, whether historically accurate or not, connects Christians to a lineage that chose love, compassion, gentleness, peace, and forgiveness when touched by the nature of Christ - life of and in Christ. They wavered, betrayed, feared, weakened, judged, hated, and denied it along the way, but that wasn't the end of the story. They knew what they knew. Once it's touched you, there's no going back. You're on the way by default.
It had happened.
This collective memory of celebration juxtaposed against the violent events of the following day, and the resurrection soon after paints the shared experience of the sacred and miraculous; of grief, joy, and deep community -- and our oneness in God. Unfortunately, it's rare to experience this reverence and authentic humility as a community. For me, it's similar in feeling to walking through the threshold at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the Smithsonian Mall in DC. A reverent hush fills the air as you step into its space. It feels alive, spiritual, tragic, - and tangible.
This repeated ritual embeds itself in time, and you come to understand the centuries and connection between you and that first breaking of bread.
When the first disciple ate the bread, he couldn't imagine how much love would be directed to this simple moment between friends over the course of humanity.
A moment that remains alive by the ongoing and distributed power of love, humility, and gratitude.
This is another aspect of lineage. Lineage is often thought of in regards to geneology, or Bible intros that cause your brain to explode if you try to follow. But there's more to it. It connects us as if by a thread. A chain whose links remind us we belong to something, our life contributes to holding it together.
For Christians, this lineage lies in the stories of those who came before us, ultimately leading us to the ground of our being. Do we just imagine this, or is there something real happening as we participate together?
I don't know.
What I do know is the power of intention has merit, the Spirit certainly has a say in this conversation, and there might be more.
When a low flying navy jet flies over my head in Norway, I hit the ground spontaneously. Why would I do that? Afterburners on a fighter jet will release a deafening roar as it moves past overhead - but I fall to the ground before it passes. Before my brain registers the sound, my body hears it and reacts. I grew up in Brooklyn, so the roar of jets, sirens, and subways were my normal. But in Norway, I this unusual, seemingly instinctual, response occurs. Do our bodies hold collective or genetic memory of our lineage?
Perhaps one of my parents experienced fear or felt threatened during the Nazi occupation in this little town. Could it be they were taught to fall to the ground when Nazi planes flew overhead if they were exposed? Could an experiential imprinting take place - depositing itself into our cellular or cognitive memory? Clearly, I'm clueless. It doesn't seem far-fetched to be carriers of tribal memory. Science may not have proven it yet, but that doesn't mean it's not true. If we adapt over time, why wouldn't our experiences teach us these lessons by embedding them? Couldn't data from these experiences shape how we adapt?
Even if these ramblings sound far-fetched, the experience of ritual and communion with others in sacred space is powerful. When a story that matters belongs to it, the experience thickens.
Communion can happen with those we see every Sunday morning, or when participating in a Lenten pilgrimage of many miles as happens annually in the Southwest, or even during a simple prayer of gratitude I shared with a group of native American hunters over a freshly killed deer. We thanked it for participating in the chain of life, and helping to sustain our families. We asked its forgiveness also - and pledged to make its life purposeful by using every part to give life. We thanked the Great Spirit for sustenance and supplying our basic need of food. When done, these strong men's eyes were brimming over with tears.
These rituals done in communion with each other shape and connect us. They're passed down as stories, tying us to each other through time, cultures, communities, and families. It strengthens us, and honors those who came before us. It's a place of safety in our collective consciousness, where we remember we're not alone. We do it to remember why and acknowledge our connection to the Great Spirit -- our glue in every dimension of time and space.
The Last Supper was one such moment. One that we pass on together in the history of the church and in the telling of the story.
Kind of amazing really. Beautiful too.
So, until another day, think on my ramblings because there's no time to edit. Perhaps you'll come up with a polite way of telling me I'm crazy. I'd appreciate that kindness. It's a busy week. Holy Week can do that to ya.