Taking Communion in an Imperfect Community

Since wrestling through — at the risk of sounding overdramatic — a crisis of faith a couple years ago, I’ve found the experience of taking Communion to be deeply powerful. The Eucharistic mystery, entering into communion with God through the body and blood of Christ, is something precious to every Christian branch and denomination.

I’ve experienced strong feelings of comfort, security, hope during Communion. I’ve felt spiritual clarity: specific insight, guidance, or confirmation, during the Lord’s Supper. Taking Communion with my church family holds special meaning and many memories.

But today, I experienced something different during Communion … something uncomfortable.

Many of the communities I spend time in are faith-based. Today, as I was taking Communion in one of those spaces, I was overcome with a feeling of deep discomfort.

As I watched people walk up to receive their piece of bread and dip it in the goblet, I realized: some of the people taking part in Communion right now have been hurt by this community. This community (and me, as a part of it) are far from perfect. There are people who have been hurt — devalued, ignored, or flat-out told that something about them disqualifies them from being a part of it.

The feeling hit me like a rock. I value the sacrament of Communion — when the walls between heaven and earth temporarily become thin, and we humans are somehow granted the opportunity to encounter the living, breathing presence of God — more than almost any other experience on earth.

But I’m in a space that accepts me for who I am. I’m in a space that values my voice, that sees my skin and face as beautiful, and that would likely have no quarrel with any partner I might want to love or marry.

Not everyone who took Communion today could say those things.

And yet they were still there:

receiving the piece of bread,

hearing the words:

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you”

dipping it in the cup, hearing

“This is Christ’s blood, shed for you”

As a straight cis white woman, I’ve never had reason to doubt that Christ’s body and blood were for me. I might feel alienated or de-valued by certain faith communities (for things like being too liberal, a feminist, or believing in the ordination of women), but I’ve never had other Christians question my ability to be “in.” I’ve never experienced rejection from other followers of God.

If I did experience rejection — on that deep, personal, identity level — I’m not sure if I’d want to take Communion with them. And Communion, at it’s core, is designed to be something that Christians experience together.

This is only the second time I’ve experienced this jagged, jarring juxtaposition of holy sacrament amid human brokenness. The other time happened after an unarmed person of color had been killed — a narrative that has become all too familiar in our world. The community gathered to pray before communion, but none of us in the (mostly-white) room knew what to say. Eventually, after a long silence, the only African American woman in the room began to pray.

It felt awkward, to say the least. Here, the one person of color in the room was having to speak — what’s more, to pray — more or less on behalf of every person of color. In a painful time, what kind of a burden is that for her to carry?

There’s no way I can know what it felt like to be in her shoes at that moment, but I’d be shocked if that Communion space felt safe, secure, or healing in that moment. As she worked to articulate the pain marginalized communities were feeling, we all sat silently. Many of us were crying, but none of us knew what to say. The amount of pressure in that room, the expectations … none of us meant to put her in that place, but that is nonetheless exactly how the dynamics of race, ethnicity, and power played out in that moment.

Communion — a time that for me, has brought some of the most healing, peaceful, and strengthening moments of my spiritual life — seemed to be having the polar opposite effect. It made me feel almost sick; this wasn’t how Communion was supposed to be.

Hum192px-Lumijoki_Church_Communion_Cup_2006_07_26an pain and brokenness had slithered their way in to one of earth’s most sacred spaces, and brokenness was now having free rein of one of my most cherished things: crashing, thrashing, and crushing — working for destruction in the midst of what was supposed to be a time of healing.

I know that as Christians, we’re all broken. We’re all human. We will all mess up, hurt people, and cause pain. But I hate experiencing that reality in the midst of the Eucharistic mystery.

Pain and brokenness should have no place there: except to be gently brought into the light, exposed, and that awakening used as a catalyst for us broken, imperfect people to identify and root out the things in our lives that are separating us from God, and keeping us from experiencing God’s wholeness and peace.

In times when I experience this jarring dischord, I have to hope that the Holy Spirit is at work: moving, shaking, and convicting in the powerful way that only she can. I have to hope that, if my ears were open enough to hear — to be convicted of the pain, inequity, and sense of unwelcome in this space — that the Holy Spirit was convicting others, too.

If God has used Communion as a space to guide, encourage, and lead me, then I can definitely believe that God will continue to use Communion as this sharpening space. If God is convicting me, God can certainly be convicting other people, too. 

And for those who are experiencing unwelcome, God can break through humanity’s warping of God’s message with God’s actual truth. I firmly believe that God will reveal Godself to every person who seeks after God with all their heart. I am not an expert on theology. I can’t argue the finer points of doctrine and history.

But I know the deep, powerful feeling of God’s love — I’ve experienced what it feels like when God keeps chasing after you, determined to catch you and heal your brokenness, refusing to give up until you are completely whole and healed.

I know what it’s like to finally be able to see how God has been chasing you your whole life, even when you couldn’t tell at all. I believe God wants nothing more than for every person on earth to want to spend every moment with God, just as much as God wants to spend time with us.

I hope that, as the various Christian communities that I am a part of enter into the sacrament of Communion, the Holy Spirit will continue to prompt each of us — unearthing the brokenness and pain that needs to be unearthed, convicting each of us of what we each need to be convicted of.

Experiences with Communion that are full of joy, peace, and healing are much more fun than experiences of pain and blunt self-reflection. But they’re vital to our faith and formation. As I continue to grow in my understanding, it’s critical that I be able to see how people in my community are experiencing God.

The more seriously I take my faith, the more I begin to see more of the ways humans, systems, structures, and narratives change people’s experience with God into something terrifyingly different from what God designed for it to be.

Lord, I see. I hear what you’re saying. Continue to show me. Continue to clarify who You are. Show me the next steps I can take. 

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