This past week has been a wild emotional roller-coaster. I had some of my dearest friends visiting, and they’ve both been through so much. One of them is experiencing a rough work environment, the other is going through the fall-out of an abusive relationship. I was so happy I could welcome them both into my home, and possibly offer a safe space for them to heal and recover. I wanted to send them back out into the their realities rested and knowing that at least one person on this planet knows exactly who they are and loves them– not “anyway” or “in spite of” that knowledge, but because of it.
But, during this week, my husband’s grandmother passed away, so I had to cut my visit a day short in order to attend the memorial service. It was beautiful, and made me extraordinarily sad that I never had the opportunity to meet a woman who everyone adored for her loving, compassionate, and generous spirit. She had dedicated her entire life to serving others– to an astonishing degree. She was careful, and tender. She remembered her elementary students long after they had grown. Many people came together to remember her life and how she continued to touch them.
Behind the minister was the communion table– the exact same table that stood at the altar of my fundamentalist church-cult my entire childhood. Carved into the front of the table were the familiar words concerning the Last Supper: “this do in remembrance of me.”
Last week was Holy Week, and it culminated in my favorite day of the year, Easter. Easter, to me, is a celebration of the life of Christ, and everything that embodies to me. And, sitting there in that memorial service, I started thinking about the incarnation, and the Eucharist, and what it means to “remember him.”
As a child, the leader of the church-cult read I Corinthians 11 every time we took the Lord’s Supper, and because of his interpretation (that if you take communion while “in sin,” God will kill you), I grew up being terrified of this ordinance. Every time I ate the unleavened bread and drank the grape juice, I felt like I was taking a monumental risk. The leader would announce every few months or so that we’d be participating in communion that night, and I would spend the entire afternoon buried in self-contemplation, repeating King David’s plea to “create in me a clean heart” and to reveal to me my unwitting sins. I would come to church that night shaking in my boots, afraid that I hadn’t uncovered all of my sin and that God would strike me dead the moment the bread passed my lips.
The church I now attend practices communion every Sunday. It is still a solemn event, and I’m no longer terrified of sudden death, but breaking bread together doesn’t have any more meaning to me than it did when I was a child. And somehow, that seems wrong. The Lord’s Supper is one of the few ordinances of the church, and was long ago recognized as a Sacrament. And, in reading about it over the past few days and talking about it with my sister-in-law, an idea coalesced. Many Christians refer to this practice as “celebrating the Eucharist,” Another way of thinking of “remembrance” is “do it as a memorial for me.”
Memorial services are about celebrating life.
In western culture, we gather after someone has died to remember the beauty and complexity of life. We eulogize them, we share our memories, we comfort each other with memories that have power and meaning in our lives. We celebrate– somberly, and in our grief, but we do.
Very often, we tend think of the Holy Eucharist as little more than an epitaph– Jesus broke his body and shed his blood for us. The End.
But we are to remember and memorialize and celebrate Christ, and not just his death, but his life. When my friends gather together, we continuously memorialize our lives– over tea and coffee and pancakes, we share our struggles and the small bits of wisdom we’ve collected. We pray for each other, we love each other, and we learn to know each other. We try to understand who we are in the context of our lives, and how our experiences have shaped us.
That’s what the Lord’s Supper is slowly coming to mean to me– it’s an act where those who are trying to come to know Christ gather together and break bread. We contemplate how his life has touched ours, and we celebrate that. We can learn, together, what it’s like to welcome Christ into our week-a-day lives. My pastor frequently asks his congregation to “create a sacred space” for each other, and it seems that this choice of words was not an accident. If communion isn’t about “creating a sacred space,” or making room for Christ in our lives, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be.