Sunday Amens: Scared of the Eucharist?

So, the first Sunday of each month is Communion Sunday at the local United Methodist congregation where I work.  Nothing out of the ordinary usually happens.  Well, this week, something extraordinary did happen.

So, normally there are two lower elementary aged (kindergarten to second grade) children [a brother and sister]   who attend Sunday School, but are unable to attend worship.  The last time we had communion Sunday, however, they partook in the Eucharist for the first time.  It was a heartening thing to witness, and a moment to be proud.  Today, they slipped in early enough that I decided to abandon my duties on the projector slides for a second to encourage them to take Communion again, by going in the sanctuary before going to their classroom where they usually play games. The Brother, M1 was more than eager to take communion, as he skipped his way in through the hallways and into the sanctuary.  The sister, the youngest of the two, however, was quite reluctant, and at first I did not know why.  Then, as I watched her reactions as the pastor was addressing the church, I noticed something.  The pastor said, this is Jesus’ body, broken for us.  The sister gave a squeamish look, closing her eyes and twisting her mouth in disgust.  Then, the pastor said, this is Jesus’ blood, shed for us.  Again, she gave a look in horror, and then I realized why she did not want to join us in the sanctuary.  As we were in line for communion, she whispered to me, “I do not want to drink anyone’s blood.”

There you have it.  A reminder from a five year-old child.  Sometimes, we as Christians like to forget how horrendous our Lord’s being tortured and executed was.  In the mind of a child so young, the taking of the pastor’s words literally may seem funny to adults, but on another level, the girl’s comment may represent a few questions that normally go unasked by your average congregant. Does salvation have to be so violent and bloody? Is the death of anyone necessary so that others may live?  What does our partaking of the Lord’s Supper mean for those who suffer torment in the here and now, anyways?

I think this girl raises some good concerns, concerns that many feminist and womanist theologians have been asking for years, pertaining to the violent nature of atonement.  What would a liturgy look like that included a nonviolent approach to the crucifixion (the cross as an anti-torture/anti-terror event)?

0 thoughts on “Sunday Amens: Scared of the Eucharist?

  1. Ryan

    I agree and disagree.

    On one hand, the generic atonement theology out there has made it very very difficult to see past the Passion of the Christ “Jesus died so you could feel guilty” mode of thinking. It’s also a potentially terrifying idea for children. The fact that the body is “broken for you” sounds immediately individualistic to the modern hearer, as if Jesus died *just for you* so you could give your notional assent to something abstract two thousand years later.

    On the other hand, Jesus DID give his body and blood for the whole world–take that as you may. It’s quite a jarring thing–to be reminded of Golgotha each time you partake–and we’ve allowed this to become very normalized. Yeah, Jesus was crucified by the powers of this world–never forget the powers part. I am fond of the Catholic notion that as we consume the body and blood we are consumed into that body–which means suffering service on behalf of the world (and against oppression). To use the language of consuming Christ’s body seems to make it real and give it that tangible quality that is lacking from our more cerebral, “it’s just a metaphor”-type language. Hauerwas said something along the lines of “how do I know it’s real? It’s real ‘cuz I ate it.”

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    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      Very interesting points Ryan. I think the language of transubstantiation is what I had in mind as I was writing this piece. I do believe that feminists and womanists make a valid point when it comes to critiquing Christians ignoring the violence of atonement theology, or at least the implications. I do not even think that my preference for the Christus Victor theory is not without its problems. However, I do think it is possible to satisfy both the traditional view of the cross as God’s reconciliation as well as the concern for the blood/flesh language. I think the language of reconciliation and victory over death, satan, and sin, need to be more incorporated into the practice of the Eucharist, for the resurrection and the cross, as a number of theologians argue, are one salvific event. Cannot have one without the other.

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