Friday, October 10, 2008

Messy Communion

When I began serving my current congregation, one of the first changes I made was to begin serving communion by intinction. Intinction is also known as "rip n' dip", where the communion server tears a piece of bread off of the loaf and hands it to you, which you then dip into the cup of grape juice and consume it together.

Needless to say, as with any change in a church, no matter how minute, there were people who were unhappy. Some folks prefer to tear off their own piece of bread. Some miss the little shot glasses of grape juice out of the tray. Some people are so averse to germs that they want individual wafers (I call them "cardboard Jesus"). Others don't like doing communion by intinction because crumbs and juice drops tend to get everywhere. You would think, though, that if anyone had cause to complain about flying juice drops it would be me. I'm wearing the white robe, after all!

It's true: communion by intinction is messy. There are cleaner, easier, faster, and more efficient ways to do it. But the life of following Jesus is rarely clean, easy, or efficient. Being a follower of Jesus means getting dirt under your fingernails and stains on your shirt because you're never too busy or too important to help out another one of God's children. Being a follower of Jesus is messy, so should we be surprised that sharing Jesus' Holy Meal is messy?

Too often in the church we've scrubbed and sanitized everything because we've co-opted the cultural metanarrative of modernity that says that we can and should tie up all the loose ends, smooth over all the rough edges, and that those who don't (or, more accurately, can't) are somehow deficient. It's easier to pretend that the universe is this seamless, harmonious singularity instead of a messy jumble of parts that God is somehow weaving together over the course of eternity.

We're going to keep taking communion by intinction because we need to be inconvenienced.We need to be made uncomfortable. We need to be constantly reminded that we're called to step out of our nice, tidy comfort zones and find Jesus amongst the mixed up, messy beauty all around us.

1 comment:

Carl said...

A couple of personal communion stories:

When I was a very little kid living in the Mississippi Delta, our small church held communion but for some reason got some no-name brand grape juice instead of whatever they normally got. This stuff was bitter. I mean BITTER. Lots of people, mostly the kids (including me) were going "YUCK!" out loud when we drank the stuff from the little shot glasses. That stuff stayed with the tongue for quite some time afterwards.

Second story: In the 70's, my paternal Grandmother attended Shubuta Methodist Church in Shubuta, Mississippi. Although it was initially established in the 19th century and had a sizable congregation back in the day when it was a thriving lumber town, by the 1970's both the town and the church had shrunk to almost nothing. Average attendance at the Shubuta Methodist Church was hardly ever above 15. When our family would drive down my Cleveland, MS she'd take my brother and I to Sunday school and church with her. One communion Sunday was an interesting one. The Pastor assumed there were communion wafers were stored in the church kitchen but turns out either they weren't there or something (animal?) ate them. Being such a small town, there wasn't any way to get replacements with minutes to go before services started. But he had an idea.

Services started and when it came time for communion, we were at the railing and instead of the communion wafers we were all accustomed to, there were Ritz crackers on the communion plate. Needless to say, it definitely was an interesting event that, as you can see, still gets told.