Belief, Spiritual Formation

Grace, wine, and smelly men

Kneeling between the old-lady-in-a-matching-sweater set and the man-whose-scent-packs-quite-the-punch, the sweet message of the wine-soaked wafer melted in my mouth.

The body of Christ,

The bread of heaven,

The rector said as he handed me a wafer. What were we all doing there, I wondered, this motley bunch of us?  What brings us to kneel like that, to posture our bodies in humility and quietness?

I fashion myself somewhat ‘put together’.  I have a career, clean my house, take regular showers, love my family.  I catch myself reasoning that these qualities qualify me for a place at the altar over my currently-kneeling-neighbors. My ‘togetherness’ allows me to feel deserving of my place.

In contrast, I examine the old lady, and while her sweater sets are remarkably coordinated, she’s, well, old.  And I’m fairly certain that the smelly man has a few more issues than just lack of shower.  I found myself wondering how such a variety of individuals ended up elbow-to-elbow in prayer, and why anyone but me deserves to be there [reader, kindly note that I’d much prefer to leave this thought sitting subconsciously in my head…].

The body of Christ. 

The bread of heaven.

When I return to my seat, Grace, a sweet woman who has trouble with mental stability, passes my pew.  I catch her eye.

“Oh, I’m hurting, honey” she whispers to me.

Grace is one of the reasons I attend the church I do.  The first week we visited, she was the first person I saw, noting her unkempt hair and ragged bedroom slippers.  As I walked through the door, she turned around to smile at me.

“Good morning,” I smiled back at her.  “How are you today?”

“Oh, honey, I’m just great.  I finally got my medicine and I feel so much better.”

Bedroom slippers.  Unbrushed hair. After years of attending what felt like Christian country clubs for church, her imperfection was deeply comforting.

“I’m sorry, Grace.  I hope you feel better,” my response to her pain stumbled out awkwardly.  I’m not very good with answering that kind of blunt honesty. I grew up evangelical.  We tend to smother our real emotions with nice platitudes.

My words didn’t seem to fix a thing.

“Oh, but I don’t. I hurt – everything just hurts,” she looked near tears, so I just grabbed her hand, and helplessly prayed a simple plea for her to stop hurting, to know Christ’s healing touch.

She limped back to her pew and left me with tears in my eyes to ponder the reality of the communion.  The communion table – the broken body, the sacrificed blood of Christ – is not there because we deserve it. We don’t kneel because we have been good, or put together, or even because we smell good or love our children.

When we come to the Lord’s table, we come in need of something we cannot do for ourselves: Christ’s forgiveness and love. We receive the broken body of Christ so that we can live as restored people in a world that so often seems God-forsaken. We come to be present so that the world might see God through His people, motley crew though we are. The point is not how we come, but that we do.  It all starts with receiving

The body of Christ,

The bread of heaven.

Grace caught me at church the next Sunday, “Your prayer worked,” she said grinning.

Slightly shocked, I responded, “It did?!?”

“Yeah,” she beamed, “I don’t hurt anymore. Thanks for praying for me.”

A broken body, healed.

A skeptical soul, renewed.

A table for us all, together.

A god-forsaken world we are not.

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