This is a guest post by Lenora Rand.
Last year at the Wild Goose Festival, the band, The Liturgists, hosted a worship experience one night, which culminated in communion. I was among several people invited to help serve. As each person came forward and stood in front of me, I tore off a small piece of bread, dipped it into a cup of wine, and offered it, along with the words many people say as a part of this church sacrament, “The body of Christ, broken for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.”
Every time I’ve gotten the chance to serve communion in this way, I’ve been bowled over by it. I always get the feeling, as I look into the eyes of the person standing a foot away from me, speak to them and offer bread and wine, that I am participating in something way beyond words and actions, something amazingly intimate and absurdly holy.
The Wild Goose Festival draws a diverse crowd but a large number of them come from traditions in which communion is served by ushers passing around big silver trays filled with shot-size glasses of grape juice and broken up cracker-like objects. To receive the Lord’s Supper you, in the quiet of your pew, chew up a piece of cracker and wash it down with a hit of juice. This is a solitary moment of reflection. Usually, the only words spoken come from the minister far away at the front of the sanctuary.
So when people came forward that night at Wild Goose, for a lot of them, taking communion in this more personal way, was a first. I could see it in their eyes, looks of surprise and gratitude, as well as confusion, sometimes sadness, and even, wonder.
I was overwhelmed in that moment with how much I wanted to help feed hope and pour love into the souls standing before me.
I was also suddenly so uncomfortable with the words I have always known to say during communion. As they were coming out of my mouth, my head was swirling with questions about whether these particular words adequately reflected my beliefs anymore.
The body of Christ, broken for you.
The blood of Christ, shed for you.
That night, I’ll admit, I even tried to improvise a little, tried out some other words I thought I could say with more confidence, but to be honest, it wasn’t always pretty. It may have been theologically and poetically cringe-worthy, at times, kinda like George Lucas crossed with Dr. Seuss. So, I often ended up just reverting back to the comfort and ease of the words I’ve heard all my life.
I started thinking about it afterwards though. Wondering, what do I really believe about atonement? And about this sacrament? What else could I say with conviction during communion?
So I began doing some research into what other churches and faith communities are thinking about and saying during the Eucharist. And in the process, I ran across a whole lot of people who feel very strongly on the subject (including a number who are, by the way, very much against the “intinction” method of delivering the elements — the way we did it that night at Wild Goose, and how we always do it at my progressive evangelical church in Chicago — since they feel it’s biblically incorrect).
I also decided to read Tony Jones’s book, Did God Kill Jesus? to help me think through some of my questions about atonement. In the book Tony looks at the various ways Christ’s death on the cross has been viewed throughout the history of the church and asks 6 key questions about each one.
What does the model say about God?
- What does it say about Jesus?
- What does it say about the relationship between God and Jesus?
- How does it make sense of violence?
- What does it mean for us spiritually?
Where’s the love?
Now, I’m not a pastor or seminary graduate or person who generally has a whole lot of patience with theological discussions. (And between you and me, I almost giggle a little every time someone says Penal Substitutionary Atonement…you know what I’m talking about.)
However, I am a person who finds myself in a church pew most Sunday mornings, full of questions and doubts and hope and longing…someone who has, for a good portion of my life, been trying to figure out what following Jesus might actually look like, in the midst of an overly demanding corporate job, bills to pay, kids to raise, boatloads of laundry to do. And I found Tony’s book incredibly readable and clarifying. It even occurred to me that his 6 questions might not only be a helpful lens for what Christ’s death on the cross could mean, but also an interesting way of examining a lot of things we Christian-y types believe and do…including how we do communion.
After finishing the book, I ended up writing down some things I felt like I could say with conviction when offering the bread and wine, some things, I realized, I’d also like to hear when communion is being served to me.
Christ is here, in your brokenness
Christ is here, bringing you to life
Christ broken, with us in our brokenness
Christ’s life, flowing through our lives
The bread of life.
The cup of love.
But, that’s just me, I realized.
Communion is, by its very nature, communal.
So, I began to casually bring up this question in conversations with some folks in my church, including more than a couple, who, I discovered, like me, struggle with the words being said, and find the experience often feels exclusionary, full of hot buttons about who’s in and who’s out.
But who are hungry for it. Desperately hungry to feel God’s presence, dying for a gulp of God’s amazing grace.
After hearing that, and with my own questions, I recently took another step. I asked my pastor if we could gather a small group of people in our church, a mix of seminary professors and “regular people” — men and women, old and young, from different races, different occupations and religious backgrounds (in short, a cross section of our church) to look at all the words we say during communion, through the lens of the Bible and church history and also personal histories and experiences. My hope is that we could, together, make sure what we’re saying is what we really believe, and what can truly fill us.
She thought it sounded like a good idea too, and it’s something we’ve decided to try to do during Lent. I’m very appreciative that she’s willing to help convene a conversation about this. Willing to wrestle with it herself within our community.
Sure it’s just a few words… but every time I remember those faces from the Wild Goose communion last summer, those eyes looking up at me as I served them bread and wine, hungry for hope, thirsty for blessing, I know that these are words that matter. Maybe more than we know.
When she’s not working at her very full time job, Lenora blogs about her quest to be more godly when you’re not very good at it at Spiritual Suckitude and helps direct The Plural Guild, a collective creating music, prayers, visual art & liturgy for people of faith and doubt, who are trying to follow the Jesus who so loves the world. She also writes lyrics for the band The Many.