I realize that I said I’d try and write things out a little earlier than this, but I’ve not been able to exist in the proper headspace for long enough to feel as though I’d say anything with meaning.
Off and on for years now, I’ve been trying to find information on a view of Communion that I only vaguely remembered being discussed in my Basic Christian Beliefs class back at Johnson. After doing countless searches, I finally found the word that opened everything up for me: Consubstantiation. This is the belief that Luther held. Catholics believe in transubstantiation, the idea that when they take communion the bread and wine become Christ’s blood and body. Luther’s take on it was that no actual change is taking place; the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine. However, the elements also take on the presence of Christ.
The analogy he used was of iron in a fire. The fire remains fire, the iron remains iron. However, when the two come together, the iron becomes red hot and takes on a whole new series of properties than it had before. I think I can support that, to a degree. However, from my research it seems that a lot of modern takes on Consubstantiation basically just make it Transubstantiation lite. I couldn’t find much that really wanted to delve into the meaning of all of this in layman’s terms.
But… Now I had a new word to search for. I googled “Consubstantiation” and did some further digging. In that process, I came across an apologetic response to what Methodists call, “The Holy Mystery”. In it, they assert that despite the power of Communion and its relevance to our lives, they can’t purport to explain exactly how it works beyond the shadow of doubt. They simply make room for the notion that something strange and wonderful and spiritual happens.
After reading page after page of Dogma, this was a refreshing take on things, so I explored it further. It seems the Methodists subscribe to several reasons to take Communion and several results of having taken it. As I continued to dig, I found myself coming back to the various Methodist ideals over and over again. I took some time to pray, and I believe that for now, this is where my spirit rests.
Within the Methodist view, Communion is seen as six different things:
1.) An act of rememberance. As I’ve previously explored, they believe that Huldrych Zwingli was not altogether incorrect when he declared that Communion is a memorial. It’s a chance for us to think of the sacrifice Christ made and what that means to us today.
2.) An act of thanksgiving. Communion is an opportunity for us to be deliberately grateful to God. Not just for what He did on the cross, but for what He has done, is doing, and continues to do.
3.) A gathered community of the Faithful. When we partake of the elements, we are joining in a Christian tradition that has been in place for thousands of years. We find ourselves simultaneously united with those partaking around us, as well as those who have partaken before and after us.
4.) A type of sacrifice. I thought this was an interesting view I’ve never heard before. The Methodists assert that taking Communion is in itself, a sacrifice not unlike the kind offered in the Old Testament. It’s a means of declaring that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves to the use of God in any way He sees fit. Ultimately, it’s entering a covenant with God that states that we are handing control over to Him in our desire to be made more like Him.
5.) Time for the Holy Spirit. The Methodists believe that the entire act of Communion is giving the Holy Spirit time to speak with us. From the initial prayer all the way through the rejoicing that takes place after, it’s ensuring that the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to speak to us and through us.
6.) A glimpse of the future. When we take Communion, we are reminded of those who have taken it before us, but also reminded to think of those that will take it after us. Communion is an act that stretches towards eternity regardless of denomination or dogma.
Now, a lot of those things aren’t necessarily specific to the Methodist movement. However, in my time in the Assemblies of God, and then the Christian Church, I’ve never heard any one try and enunciate these things. In fact, I honestly feel like the six things listed above aren’t necessarily brand new to me. I’ve heard bits and pieces of it all my entire life, but never enough to piece things together. Having found things written out and explained so dutifully went a long way towards helping me understand the significance of this strange ceremony we take part in every week.
But I still didn’t feel ready. On Sunday I took Leah to church early because she had to do Kid’s City. This left me with a little more than two hours in which to keep myself occupied. It was a cold morning, overcast and wet. After I dropped Leah off, I drove to the top of a parking garage. I turned the car off and sat in the silence, listening to my engine going “tink tink” as it cooled.
For probably 45 minutes, I just sat, in silence. Sometimes I thought, others I was simply blank. Finally, I started to utter a halting prayer. As I tried to pray, I realized how completely out of practice I was. More than that, I realized for the first time that prayer takes practice. The words wouldn’t come the way I wanted them to. There was no rhythm, no order to them. The syllables fell out of my mouth and flopped on the floor like fish out of water. I felt nothing on the inside. Still though, I knew I had something to accomplish.
See, I’ve been talking to my small group about my issues with Communion. As my research began to near fruition, I found myself imagining all of the pats on the back and the props that would be thrown my way as I triumphantly marched to the front of the church and ate a piece of soggy bread. I believe I’m self-aware enough to separate my desire for attention from my spiritual livelihood, but I wanted to make sure there were no ulterior motives for participating. After my last run in with a bad communion, I was honestly terrified it might happen again and I would find out I’m just as broken and lost as I was four years ago.
So before we left Sunday morning I threw some saltines in a zip-loc bag and poured some wine into a flask. I sat in the driver seat of my car, staring at the craters and pockmarks on that cracker for what seemed like forever. I said another fumbling, off-balance prayer and ate the cracker. I waited a few moments to see if my soul was about to show itself as being forever damaged… and felt nothing out of the ordinary. I prayed again, and brought my flask to my lips and swallowed a mouthful of wine, and felt the cold liquid slide down my esophagus. Again, no change. No angels singing, but certainly not the gut-wrenching sensation I had experienced years ago.
Again, I sat silently. Nothing. I had felt nothing. But I knew, this wasn’t about feelings. I had taken a broken bargain bin Communion, and that seemed all too appropriate at the moment.
Church proceeded as it does, and towards the end of the service, they offered communion. Everyone stood up and got in line, and I hesitated. Doing it in a church seemed very different than doing it in an ’88 Tempo. With sweaty palms and a beating heart, I stood. My wife and I walked to the back of the line and began the slow march toward the inevitable.
When it was my turn, I stepped forward. My body felt foreign and strange. What was I doing there? I was certain I was going to simply forget how to move and just collapse… But no. I made my way to the bowl of bread and stared down at it for a moment. Little cubes of bread. They seemed unassuming, but there was still a part of me that was scared that something might go horribly wrong. What if my brokenness went further than I ever imagined?
My hand trembled a little as I reached down and picked up a morsel. It continued to shake as I dipped the tip of it into the cup of juice and then examined it. Under the blue lights of the stage, the portion stained with juice was dark, almost black. Heart still pounding, I turned and went back to my chair. I sat and stared at it for a while. I’m not sure why it was so different here than in the car, but it was. Finally, I brought the piece into my mouth and sunk my teeth into it. I chewed once more, swallowed, and waited.
No angels. No voice from On High. But again… No devastation, either. After a few more moments, when I was sure that it wasn’t simply a delayed reaction and my broken and sinful body wasn’t going to reject this little piece of holiness right into the floor, a wave of relief washed over me.
I did it. I had taken Communion and seemed to be receiving an “all clear” from God.
On our way out, Leah asked me how I felt. I told her I was still cracked and broken… But maybe now I was one step closer to being whole.