The Mystery and Glory of Communion with God

My sister, after years away from the faith, came home to Christ in the Lutheran church. The transition back into the church world, while it was welcomed, still had its moments. She’d dealt with a lot in her life and carried a lot of shame. As a Lutheran she took communion every Sunday but she noticed that communion just made her feel more guilty. She often thought as she’d go to the altar, “I’m not worthy.” But Lutherans take communion every week, so every week she had to deal with what it means to be invited to the table as a person with a past.

Then one Sunday, something shifted. She was at the railing to receive the elements, but the person with the wine was moving slowly so she’d gotten the wafer but had to hold it in her mouth while she waited for the wine. Kneeling there with that wafer melting in her mouth, a memory floated forward. It was a moment she’d had with our father when he was in his last days on earth. He was home with hospice care and she’d been with him for days but was about to go back home to another state. This was the last time she would see him alive and they both knew it. They told each other good-bye and she left crying but before she could get out of the driveway, someone waved her back into the house. Daddy had asked for her again. He wanted her to bring him two pieces of ice. My father hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for days so this was sort of an odd request. My sister went and got the ice and took it to him and he took one piece and told her to keep the other one. And he said, “Now, you go on home but when you leave I want you to put your piece of ice in your mouth and I’ll put my piece in my mouth.”

That was it. He didn’t say any more than that but as my sister left the house with that ice in her mouth, she said, “I knew exactly what he meant. He meant that even if we were separated, if we were doing the same thing at the same time then we were still connected.” So it seemed to my sister that her daddy was saying, “Here’s something tangible to hold on to, and when you do this I will meet you in this act.”

That whole memory came to my sister while she knelt there at the communion rail with the body of Christ melting into the roof of her mouth., “That’s when I got it,” she told me. “Because if I’m holding this in my mouth right now, then Jesus must be saying to me that he’s here and I’m here in the very same space. The real Jesus. I’m in his presence and he is in mine. He’s saying, ‘I’m not leaving you. It might look like I’m leaving, but I’m not leaving. This is not the end.’”

Ever since, my sister tells me, she revels in the opportunity to take communion. Because she so wants to see Jesus.

Read More

We are mysteries. We are theologies. (or, What it looks like when we figure out who we are)

Jesus is invited into the home of a  religious leader for dinner. A woman who evidently has quite a reputation (read “prostitute”) shows up at the house during dinner and standing at Jesus’ feet, she begins to weep. Her tears fall on his feet. Having nothing else to wipe them with, she bends down to wipe the tears away with her hair.

Then, kneeling there on the floor, her head close to his feet, she begins to kiss them. This woman begins to kiss the feet of Jesus. In public. In front of people.

What is she thinking? How does that decision happen — to shift from cleaning to kissing? What line gets crossed, what internal hat gets thrown into that ring? And what of those who are watching? This has to feel awkward. She has brought a vial of oil with her so now — having cried on them and kissed them — she goes one further and begins to massage his feet with oil.

This is now an uncomfortable scene for all of us.

How does Jesus remain true to himself in this moment?

It is a fair question and a relevant one. How does Jesus remain true to himself in the midst of all the strange decisions we make in his presence? How does he remain true to himself in any room, in any circumstance into which we drag him? If all there is to this life is what we can see, feel and touch, then what this woman is doing to Jesus is almost profane. Jesus should be embarrassed by this display and yet …

By the way the story is told (Luke 7), he doesn’t seem to be rattled at all.

Here’s the thing: If life is more than physical and people are more than bodies, then what looks like obscene may actually be holy. If life is more than physical and people are more than bodies, what this woman is doing there on the floor at the feet of Jesus is nothing less than sermon, sacrament, testimony, mystery and theology.

This scene is prevenient grace meeting justifying grace.

Somewhere out there in the streets healing power was poured out and now here in this house thanksgiving is being poured out in return.

Could this also be a marriage proposal? This alabaster box of precious ointment was probably meant to be this woman’s dowry. It is surely the most expensive thing she owns. Let that sink in: this woman is pouring her dowry over this man’s feet. This woman who has for years divorced her body from her soul has walked into this room, pulled out her dowry, knelt down before a man and offered him her life, her future and her heart.

Could it be that this woman is saying her divine “yes” to the God who has been pursuing her since the moment of her conception? Is she pouring out her dowry in a last-ditch attempt to marry the pieces of her broken life back together? Body and soul, reunited at the altar of redemption and thanksgiving?

Kissing the feet of Jesus, this woman has redefined her body and his. She is teaching us that our creation as male and female is not just biological. We are mysteries; we are theologies. We reflect the image of God. Reaching desperately back across the line of Genesis 3 for her  original design, she is giving her body back to God as she kneels before these feet even as God redeems her soul.

This scene is the creation story wrapped up in the new covenant.

Crossing back over Genesis 3, this woman joins a fellowship of biblical women who dared to walk back into the Garden of Eden. She is now in the company of the woman who grabbed the fringe of Jesus prayer shawl and the woman who reached out to touch the resurrected body of Jesus in the garden. She is in community with the woman who sat at his feet soaking in every word while her sister fussed over a meal in the kitchen, and also the woman at the well who dared to have a deep, theological discussion with Jesus before asking if she could drink from his well of living water.

This Fellowship of the Redeemed has discovered that in Jesus they can reconnect body to soul as they answer a deep hunger for their original design.

How does Jesus remain true to himself in all these encounters with broken women?

In these moments, Jesus is most true to himself. His response reminds us that we are more than plumbing and wiring. We are redeemed people with bodies and stories and spiritual gifts, all designed to be in partnership with God to build the Kingdom on earth.

We are mysteries; we are theologies.

Michelle Bauer says, “God created gender. What God did not create is all of the baggage that we have placed on gender over the years.” The shame, the lust, the fear, the ignorance of how connected we are — all this baggage masks our identity and separates body from soul. Perhaps this is humanity’s worst offense; when we separate body from soul we tear at the fabric of our created design.

And what if your hunger and your emptiness and your feelings of shame are actually your spirit reaching for your original design?

And what if the answer to that hunger and emptiness is found at the feet of Jesus?

Read More