catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 3 :: 2010.02.05 — 2010.02.18


A better story

Beginning in high school, my friends and I liked to riff on a fictional product we called Snackraments: Handisnack-type packages that contained a spot of grape juice and a bit of bread, perfect for communion-on-the-go.  “They’re snackrelicious!” we’d proclaim.

Some good old-fashioned Dutch Protestants might consider this line of joking sputton — flippant heresy — but when I hear Homer Simpson use the term “snackrelicious,” I’m reminded of the ways in which our joke was not just despairing mockery, but satire that came out of a profound love for the subject of the joke, in this case, communion (and perhaps more deeply, the Church).

That love for communion was latent throughout my childhood.  I was fascinated by the little plastic cups that clicked emptily into their holders on the pew backs after the synchronized tipping-back of the juice, but that fascination was not aroused by the deep mystery of a sacrament.  Rather, it was the fascination young kids have for anything miniature.  They were like doll cups!  We’d scamper around the pews after the service on a communion Sunday, collecting our sticky treasures before they could be trashed.  “How can the adults throw out such cool stuff?” we marveled.  Invariably, someone’s mom or dad would chastise us for exposing ourselves to all those germs and the cups would mysteriously disappear somewhere between Sunday school and Sunday dinner.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized how much was missing from the story my childhood church was telling on communion Sunday.  The sacrament, intellectually considered so special that it couldn’t be observed more often than once every other month, told a much different tale in practice.  Perfectly even, uniform cubes of white bread, taken silently and simultaneously, were chased by disposable cups of juice.  Our ceremony was marked by machines, by sanitation, by efficiency, by duty.  Rather than impressing on me the wonder of blood, of sacrifice, of ridiculous abundance, of incarnate grace that should be present around the table, I learned to anticipate the boredom of an even longer service with an extra part I wasn’t even allowed to participate in.

I don’t blame my parents’ generation, for they inherited this anemic ritual and have often found themselves just as bored and un-impressed.  Some from that and other generations are leading the way toward a reclamation and expanded vision of communion, imagining different ways that tell a better story.  Homemade bread, locally crafted wine, lasting tableware, more regular communing and more creative methods of distribution are just some of the choices that are marking a deeper investment in the sacrament.

Other folks, however, are resistant to changing the structure I knew as a child.  Some of the most ardent pushback is from those who say we shouldn’t get so caught up in the details, but keep our focus on the meaning of the sacrament. A statement I saw on a church sign might sum up this position: “JESUS LIVESENOUGH SAID.”  But is the sacrament of any significance to us at all if it doesn’t actually affect the way we do anything?  Is it “enough said” that Jesus lives, or are we called to always be telling the story of what the resurrection means in everything we do, from the details of our communion rituals to the food we put on our tables at home every day?

The details of anything, including communion, can certainly drive us to distraction and shouldn’t become the foundation for hateful division or a new law.  But the details also matter, and if we’re not discerning with the Holy Spirit’s guidance even in the details, some other spirit will fill the void of our intentionality, revealing the true objects of our misdirected worship, such as convenience and thrift.  One of the worst effects of such carelessness is that it stunts the imaginations of children in the church, conveying communion as just one more perfunctory hoop that adult Christians have to jump through, rather than welcoming them into a central symbolic embodiment of what we all receive and what we all, in turn, are called to give.

God didn’t just flip a cosmic switch in heaven to mark the transition from the law to grace.  Rather, God became one of us in the person of Jesus.  From the inception of the Messiah to the ascension, we don’t simply have a list of facts or rules to memorize, but a series of stories told by and about Jesus to ponder in their infinite meaning.  As people who are entrusted with spreading the good news of our central story, we ought to be faithful with the details in our ritual re-tellings, telling the truth as well as we can about the blood sacrifice of God.  Otherwise, we might find ourselves on a tangent that has diverged so far from the original narrative, that the church appears less like the bride of a story-telling Christ and more like a ridiculous cartoon of itself, demurely tearing back the plastic from the body and blood.

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