I lifted my plastic cup out of the brass communion tray as it passed by. I was sitting in an ordinary folding chair, beside ordinary people, just an ordinary kid. Then came the stonewheat cracker shards in a shiny silver tray, and I wondered why such ordinary things, a dry cracker, a bit of dull grape juice, hardly even a Sunday school snack, required such fancy dishes. We waited until everyone had their bit, and then the leader prayed, we chewed on cue, we drank on cue, we passed our empty cups to the end of the aisle for collection, repetitive cicada clicking of empty glasses fitting together. I was still hungry. Maybe we all were.
I spooned beans onto a paper plate, passed it across the table to the man on the other side. There had already been a fight over unfair portions, so I was careful to scoop the exact amount. Darkness was thick on the downtown Eastside, I was sixteen, far from home, and after I finished my shift of serving meals to the homeless and poor, I took my plate, sat on the curb, and we all ate together.
We gathered with the American ex-pats for Thanksgiving. Someone cooked a turkey, the married couples brought covered dishes, the singles brought store-bought pies. We each presented a bottle of cheap wine as cover charge. We sprawled on thrift store furniture, told our stories about how we came to be eating dry turkey in Vancouver for Thanksgiving, the men had seminary beards. A guy from Georgia pulled out an elaborate hookah, and I raised my eyebrows to my husband, I wasn’t planning on smoking pot tonight, darling? But no, it was just apple-tobacco from Turkey, and then they all started to tell stories about their world travels, about the places they met God, about good dark coffee, and smuggled hookahs. We prayed, and we sat in silence, drinking wine, eating bad pie. This is the Body broken, someone said, passing the bread back over the couch to me, and I received.
I stepped up to the altar of this little stone church in the heart of the city. The priest tore a chunk of bread from the loaf behind her, dipped it into a chalice of port, I opened my mouth, vulnerable, she placed the sacrament gently against my tongue. This is the body of Christ broken for you, this is the blood of Christ poured out for you, she whispered. I closed my mouth, sucked the wine out of the spongey texture, walked back to my spot in the back, still chewing. I kept coming back, every Thursday, for Eucharist, just another charismatic kid with doubts and questions on the Canterbury trail, crying quiet beside the candles, praying in tongues at the back pew, beside the young mothers, the backslidden, the tourists, the lonely, the sinful, all of us that didn’t think we belonged up close to the altar of bread and wine. But their table was open to us all, they fed me.
I made a meal in my own kitchen, for my own self, right from scratch. I rolled out pizza dough, flour flying, and I grated carrots, sprinkled herbs, I littered the kitchen counters with dirty dishes and mess. I listened to music, louder than I do when the tinies are all here, underfoot, their cacophony of small souls growing up is usually enough noise for me, but today, I put on some Patty Griffin, it was better than church with the windows open. I’m still learning to blur the lines between worship and work. Then I washed each plate and spoon, like a sacrament, and I sat at the table by myself to eat my good labour, I picked up my blue wine glass filled with Diet Coke, and I toasted the silent companions around me, the great cloud of witnesses that came before, and the beautiful loneliness of the quiet I enjoy, I ate and I drank, and it was enough.
This past Sunday, I stood beside my tall husband in a school gym, his arm resting easy across my shoulders. We held a piece of bread, and a cup of grape juice each. He said quietly, this is the body broken for you, and I said, this is His body, broken for you, and we both chewed the wheat bread, honey underneath, and we swallowed. He said, this is the blood spilled for you, and I said, this is His blood spilled for you, and we tipped those tiny glasses up, chins to the fluorescent lights, throats exposed, and we swallowed, priests together. Around the room, ordinary people prayed for each other, just ordinary prayers without approval or investiture or holy oils, just a community, gathered, eating, praying. Our pastor said into the microphone, You’re welcome at our table, and a few more people went up to grab their bread, their juice, we were turning to each other for the prayers, for the sacred words.
So, are we taking communion? or living communion? or partaking? or participating? or receiving? or simply eating together? Sometimes I’m pretty sure that the Lord’s Supper affirms my identity, it’s a feast for my body and my soul, other times it’s just crackers and juice and ritual, and then holy communion arrives when I least expect, on street curbs and folding chairs, pews and altars, take and eat.