I give thanks to God for the diversity of faith – that there are Christians who handle the Eucharist as reverently as one might water in the desert, precious down to the last drop; and that there are other Christians who let the Eucharist be messy, bread shared like a full meal, crumbs of life scattered around.
I grew up Catholic and my heart’s roots still dig deep there. I remember once when altar serving in high school, a woman came up to me right after Mass and had me take of my alb (the white robe servers wear) immediately – I had spilled a bit of the wine when drinking from the chalice without noticing. She took the alb to wash the Blood of Christ from it with utmost care, in a special sink whose drain leads not to the sewer but somewhere set apart – holy – for the blessed Sacrament.
Another time I saw a young boy drop the Host, and the aged priest who’d just given it to him bent down so quickly to pick it up that the Body of Christ couldn’t have been on the carpet for more than a couple seconds.
Indeed, in life Jesus got his body plenty dirty – and so now in the host we honor his body like a king’s, revering his sacred blood as the Romans who tortured him and nailed him to a cross did not. After all who are initiated have received Christ into their own bodies, we tuck any leftover hosts and wine safely away in the tabernacle, to fill the church with Christ’s physical presence and to keep it safe until it can be consumed in an intentional, worshipful way.
I started attending a homey Presbyterian church in college, with a congregation small enough to all take communion standing in a circle, each person serving the next in the row rather than only trained ministers handling the communion. The smell of freshly baked bread always pervaded the room for the first half of the service, and it was a joy to pull off a generous hunk of that bread when it was finally time to do so.
The children – oh! the children! – would take the biggest pieces of all, and dunk their slab of bread into the goblet nearly up to the fist, so great was their enthusiasm for this feast. After the service, it was not uncommon for one of the kids from a low-income family to ask to take what was left of the loaf home for dinner – and so the bread of Christ nourished him in a very literal way.
Now I find myself at another tiny Presbyterian church – one so small we do not have our own building! – and again weekly communion is a time of feasting, of messiness. The first Sunday I attended, a little boy reclined on the steps leading up to the communion table after the service, the plate of leftover bread beside him, enjoying chunk after luxurious chunk of bread.
A couple weeks ago we had the second half of our worship service outside, after reading and hearing a sermon on Genesis 1. To celebrate the messiness of Creation and God’s invitation to create with Them, we drew in chalk before our pastor took the bread and cup and consecrated it. Our communion “table” was a blanket laid amidst all our chalk designs. Cars whirred by down the nearby street every few moments as we passed the cup and loaf around our circle, chalky hands pulling chunks of bread off as we said one to another, “The Body of Christ.”
Afterward the children, as always, raced for the bread left over, the abundance of Christ’s life. They huddled around the plate on the chalky ground, or sipped from the cup of juice. One held the cup as another went back again and again to dip more bread into the juice.
And so I say again, I give thanks to God for such diversity in faith. Jesus deserves the care afforded to a king, the reverence and awe reserved for God alone. But Jesus also chooses to be part of the mess that is life, and loves a good meal full of laughter and song and yes, maybe a bit of spilled juice or shower of crumbs.
Whether children race for the leftovers or the leftover hosts are tucked safely into a tabernacle, thank you God for the gift of the Eurcharist. Thank you for the endless ways humanity exercises your gift of creativity – may we never run out of new ways to worship you and celebrate your living presence among us.
we are ephemeral; never meant to be eternal
that night; just one night; it felt so ecstatic
a touch from your fingertips, sends electric shock down my spine; it was addicting
but we knew this bliss wasn’t built to last.
MAY 17, 2017: Infanta Sofía of Spain received her First Holy Communion at the Parish of Asunción de Nuestra Señora in Aravaca (Madrid), Spain. Sofía shared her big day with her classmates and with her family. The celebrations will continue at Palacio de La Zarzuela with the family, where they will have lunch and Infanta Sofía will get to open her gifts.
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