Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Snap, Crackle, SHHHH!

When I was a kid we were always instructed, when you accept the host, you are to place it in your mouth and chew on it gently. Do not -- DO NOT -- let it crunch.

This rule was no fun. About 8 times out of 10 as a result it got stuck on the roof of your mouth, and man, once that happened, there was no easy way of getting it off. It was worse than peanut butter. It was like breaded glue.

Why were we asked to behave in this way? Clearly in part it was some sort of combination of bad manners, akin to chewing with your mouth open (or noisily), and disrespect. You're at church, not the school cafeteria.

But on some level, the real issue here was our uncertainty about how to deal with the fact that the eucharist as eucharist remains also literally food.

And that issue remains. Transubstantiation... we've had occasion to talk about this already, but then again, I usually feel like I could hear a hundred lectures about it and still be unable to explain it to my nephews and nieces in a way that doesn't have them fleeing in 10 seconds or less.

One way of talking about it that I've been noodling over lately involves that word we bandy about for eucharist, "host". The bread and the wine are the vessels in which Jesus becomes present -- just like we think of ourselves as becoming, via our celebration and reception of the Eucharist, the body of Christ. We're still each ourselves, but we're also trying to allow ourselves to be host to the Spirit of our Lord. And so the bread and the wine are still bread and wine as well.

Some of the historical battles we find around the reception of communion really revolve around how we believe and accept this.

Like, the crumbs: Catholics get crazy about crumbs. Every crumb is Jesus, right? So if any should fall to the ground, it is as though we've committed the most heinous crime.

Now, don't get me wrong. This isn't like getting a sandwich and a soda at the deli. We're talking about the eucharist here. Reception requires an attitude of openness and reverence.

But sometimes I think Jesus chose bread and wine because he had a wicked sense of humor. He knew how crazy scrupulous we could be and wanted us to have to get free of all that. Bread is messy -- real bread, anyway. Wine spills. That's just part of how food works. It's why we use tablecloths and napkins and placemats. Lord, for all we know, as soon as Jesus finished his talk at the Last Supper sloppy Peter reached for the cup and doused the table. And that bunch -- don't tell me there weren't crumbs then, or anytime in the decades thereafter!

Was it the end of the world? No. You get a rag, you wipe it all up. You try to be careful.

But the grace abides.

More on this tomorrow...

Oy Vey, Peter, enough already. Trim the damn sleeves.

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