I’ve been reflecting recently on the depth of commitment we make to one another in sharing Eucharist. It is perhaps the most vulnerable of the sacraments.
At Simple Church, when we take communion, we pass the bread to our neighbor and say, “This is My body. This is our body.”
Protestants – particularly us Evangelicals – are not very good at talking about bodies. We tend to fear them, all their needs and desires, the physical trap that keeps us from being spiritually pure. But bodies – indeed all of physical creation – were made by God and declared good. Our own God became enfleshed, experienced the need to eat and to drink, burped and passed gas, craved hugs and greeted others with a holy kiss. And thus the needs and desires of our bodies need not be feared, but understood.
One couple in the church has been recently teaching their young child about body politics – her right to defend the dignity of her own body against unwanted physical touch. Whenever she does not want to be tickled or hugged or touched in some way, they’ve taught her to say, “Please stop, this is my body.” Not long ago, her father was tickling her and she told him, “Please stop, daddy. Remember, this is my body.” As she repeated the phrase, she made the motion as though passing him the bread, connecting the care of her own body with the sharing of the Eucharist.
Oh the wisdom that a four-year-old can impart.
As humans, we each have autonomy over our own bodies. We learn to care for our bodies, to protect our bodies, to defend the dignity of our own bodies. We are unique individuals, and we have the right to do what we must to protect ourselves.
But when we take part in communion with one another, we look to our neighbors and we say, “This is My body, this is our body.”
We sacrifice our individuality – what is ours to protect, to care for, to defend – and we say, “I’m laying down my own autonomy for the sake of taking part in community.” We place ourselves in an incredibly vulnerable place, giving up the rights to our own bodies out of trust that the community around us will take up the task of defending our dignity, in protecting us and addressing our needs, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We place ourselves in this vulnerable space because we trust that in community we have the potential to care for one another even better than any individual can care for him or herself.
And we do this knowing that we open ourselves up to deep, lasting wounds if the community around us does not also bear this task responsibly.
We cannot take the bread and the wine as a promise solely between ourselves and God. Just as the Triune God is in constant relationship with all three parts of itself, so are we in constant relationship with both God and the Church. So when we eat, we take on a responsibility to be vulnerable and to respond to the vulnerability of others.
What a commitment that is.
We promise to protect and defend, to love and to cherish, to lament. To seek hope and joy, to address needs. We put ourselves in a risky place physically, spiritually, and emotionally, because we trust others to uphold their commitment of bearing our burdens and celebrating in our joys.
If this harkens the commitment of a marriage vow, it’s no small coincidence.
This Eucharistic promise is just as, if not more, binding.
Along with my reflections on Eucharist and the body, I’ve been pondering the theologies of singleness and marriage that I’ve heard throughout my life in the Church. Theologies that have a hard time gasping the tension between physical needs for touch, emotional and spiritual needs for human connection, to be known and loved not just by God but by other humans too, and a Gospel that honors singleness. A religion formed out of the words and actions of a single man, God in flesh, whose very being declares the importance of physical bodies.
When Christianity fears the body – focused primarily on an individual, spiritual relationship with God – inevitably a fear of the need for touch and human connection will follow. And so, understandably, a theology that favors marriage – a relationship which can fulfill these needs without our bodies entering questionable territory – is the dominant theology that shapes our communities.
But such a Christianity, such a theology, offers only two options for singles: fear your needs and pray them away or find yourself a spouse.
It is such a theology that has left me alone in tears, craving touch – a hug, a hand to hold, a shoulder to rest my head on – and praying for a relationship solely to have this deep need met, even if it might not fit into other areas of my call. That has left me questioning why God ever calls singleness “good” but says it’s not good to be alone. That has left me angry every time I hear a well-meaning (usually married) Christian say, “You should find your contentedness in Christ alone.”
It is such a theology that whispers lies that singles are less complete. That murmers marriage is the ultimate refining fire and thus singles are not as mature. That questions if singles are relationship-less out of selfishness or fear of commitment.
But what if the commitment we make in Eucharist, not marriage, is meant to honor our needs for others? For physical, platonic touch? Our needs to be deeply known? What if it is a commitment Jesus made, and commands Christians to follow suit, because God made us in such a way that we can’t find contentedness in God alone, we were made to need one another?
What if Eucharist is the primary commitment that refines us, matures us, fosters selflessness, makes us whole.
Such a Christianity, such a theology, begs us to voice the needs of both our bodies and souls. It recognizes our physicality as a gift from God and our need for touch and human connection as the building blocks of community. Such a Christianity creates the space for flourishing for singles, couples, and families alike.
I’m grateful on Sundays to be a part of a church that practices the passing of the peace. Rather than a simple handshake meant to introduce yourself to those around you, we hug our neighbors and say to one another, “The peace of Christ be with you.”
The story I've heard is that this practice began as the first step in the Eucharistic vows, a time to reconcile any disagreements with others in community. To dine together amidst strife was seen as dishonorable to the communal commitment, thus a time was set apart to make peace with another before the feast.
To use our bodies to share the peace of Christ that makes us whole, before sharing in the body of Christ that binds us - one, whole Body.
For me this time is deeply important because it recognizes my need for physical touch. A need that, right now, as a single person, is most glaring. Apart from stopping by my parents home, it’s often the only time of the week when I am hugged. The only time of the week when my need for physical touch and affection is satisfied.
I like to think that I am prepared to take seriously this commitment to bearing other’s burdens, addressing other’s needs, joining my whole body to a community stronger than family.
But I am coming to realize that I often prefer this Eucharistic commitment be a halfway ordeal.
I prefer to commit to fighting the social justice fight, to lamenting alongside my friends, to sharing in their joy, to receiving their hugs and their passing of the peace, without the need to open my own self up to the risk of vulnerability too – to giving up my own independence and allowing others to know my own needs.
I fear vulnerability as weak.
But it is not. It is strong.
For others, the tendency might be reversed. It might be easy to make personal needs known but much harder to listen, to respect, and to address the needs of others.
And for some, the Eucharist has become an individual affair, the commitment to community is secondary, at best.
But none of these approaches respect the fullness required of us in communion.
We are a culture that prides itself on independence, and as such our religion threatens to follow suit. But we are a people that were created for interdependence, and the Eucharist reminds us to behave as so.
Do we as individuals and we as communities take seriously our commitment to the whole Body - single, married, young, or old?
Do we prepare the safe space to encourage this risk? Do we allow ourselves to enter in?
Or do we prefer to stay hidden behind our masks of “contentedness,” “holiness,” and “perfection”? Perhaps limiting our "vulnerability" to just a few acceptable "struggles".
In our preference for independence over global and historical interdependence, how many beloved are we letting down?
What would it look like to be a Church that takes seriously our interdependence, our diversity of needs? That takes seriously our commitment to voicing and addressing these needs? Our commitment to these bodies. To the Body.