Dear friends in Christ,
In the Eucharistic prayer we are using this season in worship, I continue to be struck most
by the line “Loving each body as God’s own, [Jesus] teaches us to walk in the way of
compassion.” We so often fail to treat bodies – our own and others’ – with the love and
respect they require. But it seems especially important at this moment in worship in
particular as we pray over the bread and wine with thanks for all that God has done and
will do for us.
It reminds me of Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians: “Examine yourselves, and only
then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning
the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves” (11:28-29). In confirmation I was
taught this verse as a warning that I needed to believe the right things, especially the real
presence of Jesus’ body and blood (“discerning the body”), or I would risk hellfire and
brimstone by taking communion in the wrong state of mind.
While I do trust Jesus’ promise to be present in the Eucharistic meal, I think there’s
something much deeper going on here for Paul and the Corinthians. Among the problems
in the Corinthian church, it seems, were people who were hoarding at the common table
such that others went hungry. Paul’s admonition at least in part is to discern the whole
body of Christ, not only in bread and wine but in the full gathered community and the
whole people of God.
Now when I approach the table, I try to make it part of my practice to be more conscious
of the body of Christ:
— An awareness of this particular community: the many familiar faces that gather week
after week, people who have been walking together through ups and downs for some time
(as a personal note, I’ve been more aware and more grateful than ever this past year for
this community walking with me as we welcomed a new child to our family and as I’ve
been helping my parents with health issues); people who come to join us from time to
time that have connections to our community; people who are here for their first time and
maybe even people who are experiencing this meal for the first time.
— An awareness of the saints who have gone before us feasting with us, giving thanks
with us, through their stories reminding us of God’s faithfulness.
— An awareness of the people who are not at the table: those whose illness or
circumstances prevent them from being present (though we are trying to remember them
intentionally when we send members of the healing ministry team out with communion
kits to extend the meal to them); those who have been alienated from the church; those
who don’t know God’s love.
— An awareness of those whose bodies are hurting, broken, in danger, lost, alone, afraid,
dying, or grieving.
— An awareness of my own body, grounded in this place, breathing this air, tasting this
It’s perhaps too much to think all these things at once every single approach to the table,
but this is the body that gathers at every celebration of the Eucharist. This is God’s body
in the world, and we share in the experience of all the others who gather. This meal is a
celebration of all of that. And while I don’t think God is anxious to judge us if we fail to
discern this, we do miss out on something when we fail to bring that awareness. So
perhaps together we can continue to grow in our discernment of the body of Christ not
only at the table but in the world around us every day.