I am not at all convinced that I won’t become Catholic or Orthodox someday. I love the Great Feast of Eucharist; the sense of tradition that connects us to so many places and times; the seasons, feasts, and fasts that we Episcopals are a bit lax about keeping. But if I do stay Anglican, it will be because Communion was enough. I need—I believe we all need—faith to come to us in bread and wine.
Because I love Eucharist so, much of the more terrible church-related pain in my life has been Communion-related: people denying one another Eucharist for reasons I saw as unfair. But through these great hurts, because I love Eucharist so, I understood, too: not the desire to become a gatekeeper, exactly, but to protect something sacred from a flippant and entitled world.
In my first year after college, I worked for a beautiful and holy and love-dealing church who taught me very much by being Christ to me, My main complaint was that this church did not have Communion near often enough, and when they did there was something I found disturbing. The ten or so kids in the congregation went zooming around the church whenever any activity took place, which was fine, except that it was the same during Communion—and they would sort of rip off hunks of bread as they passed by. They seemed to have no sense at all that this was special bread, and something inside me felt a physical jab whenever a piece was hacked off, crumbs flying. I wanted them to care about Jesus’s body. I think there is much to be gained by receiving something as a gift, in both hands; by learning solemnity.
I think of those kids when we have debates about who can be a part of church. It seems keeping people out often comes with good intentions, the desire to do things “decently and in order.” And even when you understand why people want to invoke grace, you also want to protest—in one sense, I know that it is silly to believe the attitude, knowledge, holiness with which I approach the Lord’s table each week is so very much greater than those kids’. Still, that seems like no reason to do nothing. Shouldn’t the church at least try to offer our best when we obey Jesus’ commandment to remember him?
Remember me, Jesus would whisper when those kids made me anxious. It is a gift. It was a gift even on that night when he was betrayed, offered to the clueless, the halfhearted, the sleepy, the deniers and the betrayer. He did not say take a decorous amount and eat, only Take, eat; this is my body. Did one of them giggle at the strangeness of these words, the nervousness of hearing him insist he would soon die? Did the servants, perhaps, gather up the remnants like the unbaptized do after Orthodox service—and was it not life to them as well?
When I remember Jesus, I am compelled to take this bread with fear and trembling; and whatever children are in my charge will be taught to do the same. But when we remember Jesus, we are also steered firmly into the grace business, into giving even when giving is indecorous. On the night when he was betrayed, Jesus said, over and over, keep my commands and my command is this: that you love one another. And he washed feet. And he did not want to be honored or protected.
So when it comes to impertinent children, sinners and doubters and outsiders, I am hard pressed to say we should not err on the side of take and eat. If it makes us wince to have our sense of ceremony violated; even if we want to cry don’t do it! when the chief of sinners reaches out to touch his body, let us not take up swords of defense but instead go with that offender a second mile. Let us take hands, ask questions, and find in the end that (of course) the chief of sinners is us. We do not remember Jesus best by limiting our tables; we meet the humble Lord every time he is broken and shared again. Here is a debt that cannot be repaid by respectability, but might be honored by scandal. Here is Eucharist: given to us in our unworthiness, reawakening us to thanksgiving.