Saturday, April 11, 2009
7:00 pm on Good Friday found me in the church kitchen helping Glenda prepare communion. "We're only supposed to cut these pitas in half?" she asked. "Not smaller?"
"That's what Matt said," I shrugged. Matt walked appeared in the doorway, so I clarified his instructions. "You said in half, right?"
Glenda: "Only half?"
"Maybe people are getting in groups and breaking from the same piece," I said to Glenda, who was halving whole-wheat pitas with one eyebrow raised, still dubious. But then I noticed the juice. Individual servings of juice in plastic, barrel-shaped containers were being carried in baskets to the auditorium.
The baskets were spread out under the cross on the stage, and the congregation was released to receive the elements. I selected a piece of whole-wheat Jesus, a barrel of his blood, and sat on the floor against the back wall.
When I was eight years old my mother explained the Eucharist. "We think of communion like a symbol," she said. "Catholics believe that the bread really turns into Jesus's body, and the juice really turns into his blood."
I noticed a potential concern. "Like, after you swallow it?" I asked. "Or while it's still in your mouth?" Jesus digesting in my stomach--perhaps. My childlike faith had accepted far greater mysteries. But Jesus stuck between my teeth? Jesus in my toothbrush that night? Mom said she was pretty sure that Catholics chewed the bread and digested the Jesus. But the next time I took communion I swallowed the juice-soaked bread whole, just in case.
Confession: I have ever since.
I'm pretty sure that the bread remains bread and the juice remains juice, not because I can't swallow the miraculous, but because Jesus is the Metaphor's biggest fan. "This is my body" and "this is my blood," he said. Your body is a temple, I am the vine, my sheep know my voice. I swallow the bread whole because purple, soggy bread isn't something I savor; I swallow it whole because it's difficult for me to metaphorically chow on my savior's flesh. The substantial carnivorous snack before me, however, was not going to go down in one gulp.
I broke off a piece of pita (his body, broken by me) and sipped the juice (his blood for my sins). I heard the tops of juice containers popping all around me and saw bread lifted to lips (his life in ours). When do the carbohydrates absorb into my blood stream? I wondered. And as always when I think about digestion or any other body function, I marveled at the complexity of it. Then I ate another bite, drank another drink, and marveled at the simplicity of it: Eat food. Live. This is my body, he said. This is my blood. I'm doing this. I'm remembering him.
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
I rarely eat breakfast on Sunday mornings before church, and when the small purple morsel hits my stomach, I'm reminded how hungry I am. I finished my pita and juice on Friday feeling full, my spirit satisfied with the bread of life.