What happened once I started distributing communion was the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity: You can't be a Christian by yourself.”
― Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion
In every relationship there are always those initial few weeks in which you both work hard crafting your image. Early in my relationship with my husband, I invited him over to my apartment for dinner. I really liked him, and I wanted to impress him by making him a (seemingly) effortless tasty gourmet meal. Now before your traditional-gender-role alarms go off, I must mention that I am a feminist, and I’m someone who’s found little use for old-fashioned ideas like “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” and “the way to a man’s heart is through the stomach” etc. but there was something about this relationship that made me want to prepare food for him, a man who loves to eat. It suprised me, this impulse to spend time preparing a meal for a man I admired. I pictured us enjoying it with a nice bottle of wine and great conversation. I even dreamt of us doing the dishes together after the meal!
Looking back on this evening, I was pretty “on the nose” with my recipe choice—Ina Garten’s Engagement Chicken, which jokingly was supposed to elicit a proposal from anyone who walks into the home of the one preparing it. Of course Edwin didn’t propose that night (to be honest, he prefers salmon, as I know now), and I can’t remember who did the dishes. Flash forward a few years...married with a small child, we are lucky if we get to eat dinner together like that once a week.
When I first came back to Christianity as a young adult, the idea of communion kind of creeped me out. Somehow, as a child, the details of the Eucharist had never really sunk in. I liked the idea of commemorating Jesus’s last night on earth with a big meal, but this mysterious act of partaking in the body and blood of Christ—which, by the way, we call a “celebration” but can feel like a funeral—as a new-old Christian, it mystified me and gave me pause. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the highly persecuted early Christians were accused of cannibalism.
But lately the idea of communion and its meaning have been expanding for me. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis talks about how the fact that it is through the sacraments of our faith (that is, the things we do) that the spiritual becomes the physical. He says, “There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”
I like this image of God: a love interest impressing us with a meal. Imagine God in the kitchen preparing food for you, calling you to remember the moment of Jesus’ humanity and his sacrificial love. When I think back on that meal with Edwin, I don’t remember whether or not the food was good, but I remember our conversation. I remember our connection. And that is what is offered us at the Lord’s Table, too. God has given us an act, which gets inside our very being and elevates the mundane act of eating to a holy one. This is an opportunity for Communion in truest sense of the word—coming together in unity, with God and with each other.
This Sunday is World Communion Sunday and Christians of every variety will all partake in the Lord’s Supper in celebration of all we have in common. It also happens to be the baptism of our little Eva, so our family is blessed to participate in two of these special sacraments in one day.
An ordinary sprinkle of water on Eva’s head becomes a powerful symbol of her identity in Christ. An ordinary bite of bread and sip of juice become food for this journey, a reminder of a God who came to pursue us and who gives us concrete actions to experience new life in community. We can’t be Christians by ourselves, as Sara Miles reminds us.
The image I was attempting to craft in front of my future husband—one of domesticity and easy-breezy-beautiful-Martha-Stewart living—he saw right through it, and thank goodness. Being who I really am is so much easier, and turns out he finds that person lovable. And when we come to the table to receive Jesus at communion, we can come as we are, too. Yet, at that meal, if we are lucky, we will walk away forever changed.