“The Body of Christ broken for you.”
“The Blood of Christ shed for you.”
I don’t get to serve communion very often. Because Disciples tend to be lay driven, it is common in a lot of churches for the elders to preside over the table. But every so often, I got to say the words of institution and the above phrases. I’ve noticed every time I talk about Christ blood poured out for many that are start to shiver. A number of years of growing up around more progressive Christians that find all the talk about the cross rather icky, has made me hesitant in talking about it. But Christ’s death on the cross, the broken body and the blood poured out are reminders of how ancient Jews used to sacrifice a lamb to atone for sins. Christ’s death was identifying with the suffering lamb.
A recent post by fellow Disciples pastor Doug Skinner has me thinking a lot about the role of communion in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) . Skinner notes how communion has changed in our shared tradition and a few others as we move away from talking about a broken body and shed blood to a ceremony devoid of the cross.
I’m reminded of something that happened in seminary. One of my classmates did a special project that focused on the role of the cross and she did it by showing pictures. Her first picture was what we would think as a traditional understanding of Christ on the cross. The second picture was a more feminist attempt at viewing the crucifixion and she showed us a picture of Christ/a a sculpture with a female Christ figure. Finally, we were shown a picture of a little girl maybe around 5 or 6 years old. The student liked this understanding of the Christian faith. There was no more suffering, no more blood and guts. All that was left was a sweet little girl.
Looking at the cross from the outside, it looks rather crazy, if not insane. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, the cross is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. The cross doesn’t make sense and it seems offensive. Which is probably why, as Skinner notes, we try to hide the cross.
Especially these days in mainline churches, we want to get rid of all the “torture porn.” Skinner shares how the church focuses on less bloody things to more pleasant ideas:
Increasingly in my own church circle I am witnessing a disturbing trend towards “cross-less” communion services. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been in one of our churches recently and heard the Lord’s Supper framed as a message of welcome and inclusion (the “fruit”) without any reference to how it is the saving work of Christ on the cross that makes this welcome possible and that inclusion necessary (the “root”). It is mystifying to me how a Gospel ordinance that was instituted by Jesus Christ Himself “on the night when He was betrayed” (I Corinthians 11:23-26)so that we would remember how He died “for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:1-4) could lose its essential and instrumental connection to the cross.
Being gay, it is important to hear that “all are welcome” at Christ’s table. LGBT people need to know that they are loved by God. They need to know that this table is open to them. But I think especially in many parts of mainline Protestantism, we don’t pay attention to that penutlimate word, “Christ.” If you are going to talk about Christ, you have to talk about the cross. No cross, and this is just a feel-good exercise. It reminds me of something I wrote a while back about being open and affirming. It’s a good thing to be open and affirming. But what is it for? Too often it is an end in and of itself when it is an important means to an end. We welcome people to the table regardless of their sexuality in order that they remember the saving work of Christ on the cross, to know our sins (not our sexuality) are forgiven and then go and join Christ in mission.
Maybe at the end of the day, it makes sense to be a little queasy about broken bodies and blood. I should be queasy, because it is queasy stuff. I think about my ancestors who were slaves in the American South that had to endure being broken and bloodied by white overseers. Christ on the cross is a reminder of how we are saved and also shows a Christ that knows what it is to suffer.
Our faith is uncomfortable and it should be since it’s life and our salvation came from Christ’s torture and death. It’s blood and guts, but it is also about the God of the universe that sacrificed his life, body broken and blood shed for us.