Let me back up. Two years ago I arrived at Prairie College as professor of Old Testament. I was ready to teach and ready to serve. In my first couple of weeks here, a colleague approached me to see if I'd be willing to help serve communion at our convocation chapel. I was surprised at how much this meant to me. Forty years old at the time, I couldn't recall having ever been asked to serve communion before. I've attended church my entire life -- not casually, but devotedly. If there is such a thing, I'm a professional Christian. I've dedicated my life to this faith, to this message. I've been to Bible college and seminary. I spent 15 years as a missionary. But I'm a woman. Perhaps that's why I had never been asked to pass out bread squares and tiny cups of juice to fellow believers.
For chapel we passed the trays down long rows. Somehow I messed up the every-other rhythm or sent the wrong tray first down the row, which meant that people were trying to hold a cup while passing a tray and taking bread. That didn't work very well (these things take practice, of which I had none!). In the end, everyone was served and our job was done. I felt mostly like an imperfect cog in a machine. Happy to help, but nervous and clumsy.
|The body of Christ, broken for you (Photo: C Imes)|
The music was a bit loud. I'm not sure whether most of them even heard me. But something powerful happened as I said over and over, "The body of Christ, broken for you." I knew most of these people by name. I knew many of their stories. Some of them I loved deeply. Others -- to be frank -- not so much. In context of these relationships, those simple words became profound as my heart silently completed each sentence:
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose body is also broken."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose spirit is crushed."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose mental health is tenuous."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose family is estranged."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . whose sin is still hidden."
"The body of Christ, broken for you . . . who is growing in grace."
A few people approached who I've never really clicked with. People who annoy me. They've never seemed to like me, either, but they had no choice but to come to me for bread.
"The body of Christ, broken for you."
My words to them were the same as to all the others, and this time the Spirit gently convicted me. Would you withhold love from one I love enough to die for?
I felt ugly places in my heart close over with forgiving love as I silently repented.
I heard a still small voice say to me, "The body of Christ, broken for you . . . who have failed to love." I needed as much grace as every other person I served. The ground is level at the foot of the cross.
This story didn't take place in church. It was in a college chapel. But it illustrates one reason why listening to a sermon via podcast can never replace church attendance. Sunday morning is not primarily an intellectual transaction, nor is it primarily concerned with my vertical relationship with God, though it includes both of those dimensions. When we show up together at the foot of the cross, divisions are healed, grace is conveyed from one person to another, and we become just a little bit more like the family of faith God intended. As Kevin Peters said in his message that day,
"Our God is radically relational. . . . God designed us to be connected to him and to each other."Mark Jonah had introduced communion with Hebrews 12:1-2, focusing particularly on the words, "Jesus . . . for the joy set before him, endured the cross." Mark always assumed that this joy was the joy of heaven awaiting Jesus, an eternal reward for faithfulness. Lately, though, he has been discovering a new dimension of Jesus' joy -- the joy of restored relationships now. Jesus knew that his death would have an immediate effect on relationships here. That joy made his suffering worth it. That joy is the reason we bother with church.
Yes, the body of Christ is broken. But it's brokenness brings life to you . . . and to me.