God Feeds Us: Finding Acceptance in the Eucharist
When I was a kid, tons of things scared me–not the least of which was taking Communion. I can remember walking into church and being filled with dread when I saw the Communion trays stacked at the front of sanctuary. I would spend the entire service wracking my brain trying to remember and confess everything that I had ever done wrong, begging God to bring to mind anything I might have forgotten. It was a big task, trying to create a clean slate in time to take the elements in a right condition. I was terrified of what might happen if I took Communion improperly–after all, I’d heard rumors of damnation for those who took the Lord’s Supper irreverently.
Obviously, it was a childish understanding of the Eucharist—one formed by all the terrors and misconceptions and assumptions of a child’s mind. And yet, as I grew older, I cannot say that my theology surrounding the Lord’s Supper improved much at all. I lost some of the fear and guilt, but never moved past the belief that Communion was merely a memorial service that believers observed a few times a year in memory of Christ’s death—the same way Americans honor their military heroes on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Communion was always something that I felt I had to do for Christ as opposed to something He had done for me.
The first time I ever received the Eucharist as a gift—a grace— was in college. On my knees before the crucified Christ, in a small Anglican church, I realized I was there to receive the Eucharist because–as much as I didn’t deserve it–I needed it.
There was no doubt in my mind that I didn’t deserve it. For a plethora of reasons ranging from upbringing and personal psychology to cultural values and certain aspects and structures of the Western evangelical church, I see God far too often as angry and disappointed—always on the verge of giving up on me. And when God sees me? Well, He must see everything I do wrong, everything I don’t do at all, everything I lack, every way I fail, and everything I can never be. God must see me and know I am not good enough. Concepts like forgiveness, unconditional love, and acceptance were, in many ways, words that I had intellectual definitions for but of which I had not much real life experience. I’d been carrying around the great weight of God’s displeasure for years, so when I stumbled for the first time into that simple stone church and prayed the words from the liturgy, I knew them as my own,
“We do earnestly repent,
and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
the remembrance of them is grievous unto us
the burden of them is intolerable
Have mercy upon us,
Have mercy upon us most merciful Father…”
I knew personally the weight of that intolerable burden and could groan in unison with the words of confession and the plea for mercy. I also felt a new lightness, because the very words of the confession implied that it is a burden I am not destined to carry, but to let someone else take from me.
And then all of us in the congregation rose and slowly made our way to the altar, to kneel and hold out our hands to receive the Body, to part our lips and receive the Blood.
Experiencing the Eucharist in such a radically different way than I was used to partaking of it helped me to understand that the only thing I needed to do to receive the Eucharist properly was accept it as gift–accept that it is for me just as I am: imperfect, needy, a veritable beggar, on my knees in need of Christ for life and sustenance and strength. The wine, burning my throat and warming my insides long after I’d returned to my pew, was the most intimate embrace I’d ever experienced. The Eucharistic altar is the ultimate place of acceptance because that is where Jesus meets us—sharing his very life and being in order that we may live. A wise priest once said, “It is not that the bread becomes Jesus, but that Jesus becomes the bread.” And at the Eucharistic table, where all are fed freely, we are transformed from needy wrecks to “jolly beggars” because the Savior delights to sustain us.
A million times a day I have to remember that when I kneel at the altar, vulnerable and undeserving, I am not turned away but welcomed to the table with bells ringing in joy. “The gifts of God for the people of God,” the priest says as he holds up the consecrated bread and wine. And it strikes me that perhaps God has given us this rite of the Eucharist as proof—so that when we doubt His love for us and begin to feel that it is all too good to be true, we are reassured that yes, we are invited to the Eucharistic meal, and no one who needs Him will be turned away. It is the beauty of God that what was once the source of such guilt and fear is now the source of my most intimate acceptance and love.
I want to live in that Eucharistic moment, kneeling and receiving from the One who delights to give, delights in me, and delights in accepting all who come, hungry, to the table he has prepared for us. This is not a postmodern ramble about the outdated complex of guilt and its irrelevance to our current society. This is about a God who loves sinners and meets them through Christ. A God who says,
“Come, all you who are thirsty, Come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Isaiah 55:1-2, NIV
I am hungry. Jesus is bread. To reach out for God is to be met by Him. Or, as the poet William Carlos Williams once said, “To be hungry is to be great.”