I have to confess that there is much I’ve never understood about Communion.
I think my confusion goes back many years, to sitting in a hushed sanctuary, watching as trays of minuscule wafers and miniature cups of grape juice were passed overhead. I remember experiencing Communion as a major downer. Communion meant 15 extra minutes of church–15 more squirmy minutes of sitting silent. Knowing I was meant to be thinking some sort of Deep Thought, falling short, falling short. And yet. Somehow, feeling strangely guilty.
Communion was quiet. Formal.
Boring–save for the momentary adrenaline rush of being passed the tray of full-to-the-brim grape juice cups, knowing that any second all could come crashing down in a shower of plastic and purple. Don’t breathe, steady, pass it to your sister, quickly now, before it’s all your fault and not hers. And of course, there was the time where she was the one bathed in Welch’s Grape Juice and the white skirt was never, never the same.
Embarrassing, but I’ll admit that as I got older, I didn’t necessarily resolve my confusion, or my relative dissatisfaction, with Communion. Granted, I definitely got better at the motions–specifically, I no longer fell asleep while meant to be silently reflecting and I stopped collecting all of the empty cups and tipping all of them upside down to coax the last drops of grape juice from their tiny troves. But.
I can’t say I felt like I was communing.
Communion, despite it sharing the roots of its name with such delightful words like commune (so granola! so kibbutz!), and communal (so unhygienic! so messy!), was a solitary, sanitary, sterile experience. Don’t get me wrong. I could fully get behind 5 minutes of silence in my life right now. To sit and be still with my Jesus, to just. Be. Quiet.
Yes. Yes, please.
And I love the inherent beauty of the word, and I love the history and the richness of the tradition. To think that as I accept the bread, the cup, I am but one of many through centuries and centuries of heads bowing, eyes closing. There is–yes, there is–communion in this age-old ritual of remembrance.
It has now been a long time since I’ve formally taken Communion. It’s been just as long since I’ve sat in a church that you could call sanitary, or hushed. Last week, though. Last week, I took part in Communion. I sat in a Mursi church, on a cow dung floor. I sat with my baby on my lap, my child leaning against my shoulder. I sat with two other kids, adorned in beads and little else, laying on my legs. I was sweating. It was crowded, I couldn’t stretch my legs out fully to relieve the tingles in my falling-asleep backside. The wind barely blows in Mursiland, the air finds its place and settles in. It was hot, under a tin roof. The floor was itching the backs of my legs. I had a sticky fly landing on me repeatedly.
I was uncomfortable.
And then they started to pass the warm Pepsi that plays its part as an African sacrament. They passed it in a gourd, and everyone’s lips sipped the same blessing. I watched and my mind started calculating–do I, or do I not, take this oh so communal Communion? I’m half way around the room, and that was pretty good odds, and my husband was before me, so here’s how I decided–if he took it, then I would, too. Because chances are good that I’d kiss him before the day’s end and so what’s the difference, really? And as you can see, I wasn’t really thinking about my Lord and His sacrifice for me, but I was, at least, thinking communally. And then the gourd came to me and it was the same adrenaline rush I remembered because Dex reached up to grab the gourd’s edge and Daisy shifted position and I was off-balance with thoughts of saliva and Pepsi and would we all get more blessing than we bargained for?
I sipped. And passed.
And then the bread came around; it was a loaf of Mursi bread, shaped by a community of hands and baked over a commune of stones. Gritty and heavy in my hands and there were thirty hands on this loaf of bread before it came to rest in my hands.
I broke. And passed.
And then the last of the Pepsi was sipped from the gourd and the bread broken for the last time. Communion, for me, had never been more communal. We all stood, together, and prayed, in a language I don’t understand. There’s so much I do not understand. Voices murmured an amen together, and one old lady started to sing, in a language I don’t understand. And feet started to stomp, and arms rose. Faces turned toward heaven, and bodies started to sway. There is so much I do not understand–but this. This, I did. My own feet stomped and my own hands came together and my own face turned up. And then I felt it.
The wind. The wind was blowing.
Then I knew, and I did understand. There was Communion in this place. And the wind blew to remind me, to remind me not to forget. To not forget when I break, and when I drink. To not forget when the wind blows. To not forget that life is unhygienic, and messy, and smelly, and uncomfortable. Life is, in fact,