Not Because You Must but Because You May
I’ve been working my way through Cole Arthur Riley’s new book This Here Flesh, and it is truly a beautiful piece of writing. I’ve been particularly struck by her chapter entitled “Body.” The chapter focuses on the importance of recognizing the sacredness of bodies, the memories they hold, and how significant they are to our faith. Here is a bit of writing about her hopes for God’s table, and her thoughts on the meaning of communion:
What do the body and blood have to do with memory? How do they connect us to the story of liberation? It means something that the Eucharist, this lasting ritual of the presence and memory of God, is a physical nourishment as much as it is spiritual. I once went to a church that gave everyone a whole slice of bread and they actually buttered it. It felt wrong, but they had something so right. I love that we don’t just bow to the bread, we eat it—the body of God entering our bodies. And I think God’s supposed to taste good.
This paragraph has stayed with me since I first read it, and I thought of the many varieties of communion I’ve had over the years. I thought of the time I had communion at a bar in Fort Worth, and the bread of life was garlic bread. I remembered it. I thought of the first time I had communion after I had been baptized and was finally permitted to join at the table. I was only eight, but even then, I wrestled with this feeling of knowing I was finally part of something I had longed for, yet I was still hungry. I thought of the recent installation service for our new conference minister at Camp Allen. I sat up front with the choir, which is always a cherished space for me. When it came time for us to join at the table, we walked together to receive our communion kits. Of all the tables where I’ve received the gifts of grape and grain, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that this was the most disgusting wafer I’ve ever tasted. It tasted like a dried crayon (Don’t ask me why I know that). I looked around at the other faces reacting to this sacred meal we had just received, with a mutual disgust, and I laughed. It was holy. It was communion. I think God’s supposed to taste good. While the kit tasted terrible, my soul was still nourished, because we were all together in one place. No one was excluded from the table, nobody sat in the back watching as others partook of a meal they weren’t invited to, even if it was a waxy dried out wafer. Come not because you must, but because you may. Regardless of what we eat at the table, what makes it sweet, what fulfills my soul, is knowing that we are all there together. That is what makes communion holy.