I was born and raised Pentecostal. For all my life in the Pentecostal Church the Lord’s Table/Holy Communion was always presented in a very dangerously mystical way. Kind of like if you approached it wrong even an inch you were doomed. Problem is, all this dangerous mystical thing was neither well explained nor questioned as it were. We just flowed with it. It felt more like a condemnation ritual rather than the life giving ritual I was convinced it should be. So every time the Holy Communion was scheduled, mostly once a month, there was always this fore bonding feeling that engulfed the congregation. I remember so many adults, who were the ones eligible to participate, walked out of the church building when the communion ritual started. It always started in a very threatening manner. Scriptures were read, mostly condemning scriptures like 1 Corinthians 11:13-34. Most emphasized part of this, usually used a the intro to communion time was vs. 27-32
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
No wonder the adults would begin walking out one after another. Who wants to risk getting it wrong and ending up with sickness or even death! I know quite a number of people from my Pentecostal days who even to this day do not dare participate in communion, its too risky.
The Cross and The Blood
Following the warning on taking communion in an unworthy manner, the next step was emphasis on the cross and the blood. All this boiling down to the sinful nature of humans and that being the sole reason Jesus died on the cross. So the blood was really key in communion. It was the blood that cleansed, it was the blood that did all the work. The songs accompanying communion time emphasized this as well. They were blood songs: ‘Oooh the Blood of Jesus’ and all its cousins.
My late maternal grandmother was a also a blood person. She was praying the blood, sprinkling the blood, spread the blood, pouring the blood, washing in the blood, dipping in the blood – all this in her prayers. There would also be something about the cross – leaning on the cross, standing next to the cross, kneeling at the cross, humbled by the cross – not much about the body with her as well.
After the blood singing and extolling, eligible adults, all who had been washed by the blood would receive the bread and grape juice. Then more blood songs would follow and everyone would be piously quiet, heads bowed. After a couple of minutes the ritual would be brought to an end, mostly with a loud hallelujah or a Praise song (a fast song).
Wait, Is that it?
I always questioned this communion ritual. For some reason it seemed off to me. It seemed lacking, incomplete and raising more questions that answers. On the other hand I was also really drawn to the ritual. So when I became eligible to participate in it, after baptism, I was so excited. But my expectations fell flat. Every time communion was scheduled, the emotional heaviness was overwhelming. Always wondering if I am worthy, will I participate to sickness or even death. Just condemnation after condemnation. But my eager self always partook of it. Maybe I thought that there more I participated I would finally unlock a level of freedom with this ritual. It never happened.
Then I stumbled upon Jon Courson courtesy of Hope FM and the more I listened to him, I realized that in their Church they had communion daily. Not only did they have it daily, everyone was welcome. And I mean everyone, whether you felt worthy or not, right or not, you were welcome at the table. Something clicked right with me on this way of doing the communion ritual. With all my Bible reading and Study, I was really convinced that Jesus did want all His disciples at the table every time. So why did my Pentecostal church work so hard to keep as many people away from the table as they could? Why did it seem that exclusion was the central part of the communion ritual? And where was the Body?
In comes the Anglican Church
In my adulthood, I made a conscious decision to move out of the Pentecostal church into the Anglican church. The liturgy is what drew me in, especially the liturgy around Communion. I was so intrigued by the rituals around a Holy Communion service. Unfortunately for me, I have only experienced the Holy Communion liturgy in all its wholeness under one priest. Every other celebrant I know is either rushing through the words, forgets the words, seems absent from it, looks like they are just going the motion – it hurts!
Good for me, since this is one of my most conscious decisions, I have chosen to be present even when the one leading is clearly absent. I find the Anglican church liturgy to be so beautiful, so rich yet so under utilized as a means to an end; communion with God and fellow seekers.
Whereas there is not much blood songs and outright emphasis in the Anglican Communion liturgy, I still struggle to find the Body. I can see the cross, I can see the blood but for some reason the body is there yet not there; visible yet invisible. We sign the cross, we send all our problems to the cross, we have visible huge cross within church building and on top of church buildings. The blood washed us from all sins. The blood was poured. But when it comes to the Body I find myself stumbling.
Where is the Body?
Mary Magdalene at the tomb of the resurrected Christ asks this question in great distress.
In all my Christian upbringing under my mother and late maternal grandmother, but especially with my mother, I can only remember the Body of Jesus being brought up in one instance – as pertains to healing. The quoted scripture being Isaiah 53:5
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
Even with this Scripture quotation, mostly done in fervent prayer, I was lost. I did not quite understand it. And because questions were not welcomed and were mostly deemed to be a lack of faith and worse still a denial of Jesus, I dared not ask.
My mother taught me a lot about God; mostly Scriptures and living by faith. My late maternal grandmother was in the prayer section and recounting of Old Testament deliverance stories. One of the things both emphasized on is the ‘salvation of souls’. I grew up in a town that even has a denomination derived from this understanding – Soul Winning Ministries. I received a fragmented faith. A cross and blood faith, a soul faith. In this faith, the body was the enemy, the body was treated almost like a necessary evil. This justified most if not all the suffering the body goes through, it also aided in spiritual bypassing of anything relating to the body, the mind, the emotions – after all, God came for the souls of men.
It is no wonder then that such a ‘soul theology’ found its way into the Table further cementing this fragmented theology. The body was the problem, the soul was the one to be saved and the one to rescue the Body; after all did not the good book say that in the New life we will have New bodies.
To deny one is to deny all
To deny one’s body is to deny all bodies. To be unable to relate, to name, to be at peace with one’s body is to be unable to relate to, to name, to be at peace with the body of everyone else.
The more I ask questions about the Body of Christ the Nazarene, not just at the Table or at the cross but in His life on earth I am in awe. The more I ask questions about my own body, not just as a ‘temporal tent’, ‘fading flower’, ‘passing space’ the more I am able to be present in and with myself. Fragmentation is dangerous. When we fragment a human being into different parts and impose value on each part we pit the person against themselves. So instead of me working with every part of my being, expending my energy into integration, wholeness and growth, I spend that energy securing and maintaining fragmentation and thus descend into dis-ease and ultimately death of one fragment after another.
At the Table the Body of Christ the Nazarene is present. It is present in wholeness and in brokenness. The cross is the instrument of power used to bring about death onto the broken body from whom the blood flows. Without the body there is no blood, without the body there is nothing to crucify, to beat up, to strike, to touch, to hold, to be enjoined with.
So why do we find it so hard to see the Body at the Table? Why do we bypass the broken Body and rush to the blood? Why do we so easily denounce own bodies and those of our neighbors? Why do we find it so easy to destroy and cause harm even unto death on our won bodies and those of our neighbors?
What have we lost, what has been numbed in is because we never see the Body at the Table? What has bypassing the broken Body and rushing to the blood done to our collective psyche? Is this one of the reasons why we so easily denounce our bodies and those of our neighbors? Is this one of the reasons it is so easy to destroy and cause harm even unto death on our own bodies and those of our neighbors?
What would happen if we stopped and saw the Body at the Table? What would happen if we really stepped back and took in the broken Body and all that it meant at the point of original breaking and every time we sit at the Table? What would happen if I acknowledged my own body in all its fullness, naming and celebrating it parts in all their wholeness and brokenness? How would such an acknowledgement and celebration be reflected in how I relate with the body of my neighbor?