We met three different times over a five months span. We came from diverse backgrounds and experiences but what brought us together was a shared commitment to engage stories of harm and trauma with wisdom, kindness and strength. The staff at The Allender Center was our teacher and guide. Then it came; the final hours. We were invited to one last meal.
There were three or four stations, two people at each station. One held the cup of wine while the other held the loaf of bread. I stood in line to take my elements from Dan and Becky Allender. As I drew near, I did something uncommon – I looked up and met their eyes. I don’t recall the exact phrase spoken but I remember Dan leaning over, saying my name and saying some version of “This is [His] body, which is for you.”1 Then Becky followed with a generous smile, “Alice, ‘This cup is the new covenant in [His] blood.’”2
I had participated in communion countless times before. I attended a church where a prepackaged wafer and grape juice was distributed along with the Sunday service program. Other times, the tray of pre-cut unleavened bread and miniature cups of grape juice were passed from person to person, from right to left, left to right. Walking up to the front to people who served the elements was also familiar. Each time, the customary phrase was repeated – His body broken for you; His blood poured out for you.
At some point the ritual became rote. I had failed to remember its weightiness. I don’t know how long I had been in this state and sadly, I didn’t even notice.
At Jesus’ last supper, he instructs his disciples to reenact the meal and with each reenactment, to remember. “Do this in remembrance of me.”3 He understood the power and beauty of remembering. He also knew our proclivity for amnesia.
Forgetfulness can be experienced as inattentiveness. It happens when what is holy is adulterated with sentimentalism, diluted by the innocuous. Forgetfulness strays us away from the one who calls us to a seat His table. Forgetting inevitably takes us to self-sufficiency, self-preservation, and building of walls and borders that isolate.
This time was different. I heard my name and my heart responded to the call. I saw the extended hands that both held and invited me to partake in this sacrament of remembrance. I felt the torn bread and the weight of red wine as it bled through and colored what was once white. I smelt the melding fragrance of both grain and crushed grapes. I pictured myself at a table with Jesus as he offered himself, starting with my name.
Alice, this is my body broken for you. Take. Eat. Do this in remembrance of me.
Alice, this is my blood poured out for you. Take. Drink. Do this in remembrance of me.
I took. Ate. Drank. And I remembered.
Since that day, communion is my encounter with Jesus. There are definite moments when I’m tempted to rush and even dissociate but it’s hard to avoid the face of One who is looking for you. I imagine his face communicating deep, deep compassion, kindness that awe, and aching grief for where I’ve come and yet bold, daring joy for what lies ahead. His presence is both strong and gentle, making room for my repentance. I am welcomed as I am – weary, disheartened, and broken. There at the table, His grace is sufficient; His power is made perfect in my confession of weakness.4
This past Christmas, my husband gifted me Ann Voskamp’s The Broken Way. She unpacks communion with an illuminating connection to a first-century Jewish marriage custom,
“… when a man decided whom he’d chosen to marry, his father would pour a cup of wine and pass it down to his son. The son would then turn to the young woman he loved, and with all the solemnity of an oath before Almighty YHWH Himself, the young man would hold out the cup of wine to the woman and ask for her hand in marriage. He would ask with these words: “This cup is a new covenant in my blood, which I offer to you.””5
She states the obvious, “The Last Supper was a marriage covenant.”6
To further draw out this gem, she quotes Martin Luther from Christian Spirituality: An Introduction,
“From such a marriage, as St. Paul says, it follows that Christ and the soul become one body – so that they hold all things in common, whether for better or worse. This means that what Christ possesses belongs to the believing soul, and what the soul possesses belongs to Christ … Christ possesses all good things and holiness; these now belong to the soul. The soul possesses lots of vices and sin; these now belong to Christ … Christ, the rich, noble, and holy bridegroom, takes in marriage this poor, contemptible, and sinful little prostitute, takes away all her evil, and bestows all His goodness up on her! It is no longer possible for sin to overwhelm her, for she is now found in Christ.”7
Both the tangible and intangible, visible and invisible elements of a sacrament mysteriously connects us to the past, present, and future ... to the death and resurrection of Christ, the hope found in Christ's ascension and His promised return. With this, we are affirmed once again of who I am and whose I am. As Curt Thompson author of Anatomy of the Soul and The Soul of Shame says, “We are all born into this world looking for someone looking for us.”
Jesus is looking for us. There is plenty of room at His table.
1 1Corinthians 11:24 ESV
2 1 Corinthians 11:25 ESV
3 Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25 ESV
4 2 Corinthians 12:9
5 Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into The Abundant Life (Oregon: Zondervan), 42
6 Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into The Abundant Life (Oregon: Zondervan), 42
6 Martin Luther, quoted in Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (New York: Oxford, 1999), 158-159