Unchurched — A Personal Reflection on the Eucharist (Part 1)

In a previous post, who knows how long ago, I referred to a French movie I saw called, “Of Gods and Men.” In this movie, we view the internal struggle between a band of monks who live in a dangerous Algerian city. Radical Muslims begin to infiltrate the town and kill anyone who come in the way of their objectives. These monks, who have dedicated their entire lives to the service of the Algerian people, must decide if they should flee the scene to save themselves, or stay and risk their lives for the people’s sake. About half of the monks shrink at the thought of purposefully condemning themselves to martyrdom by remaining while the others feel they would be condemning the Algerians by leaving them to the wolves. Eventually, through prayer and deliberation, all of the monks chose to remain in their monastery and serve the Algerians. But in doing so, they fully realize their mortal lives will soon cease to exist.

Towards the movie’s end, the audience finds the monks sitting around a dinner table together. Around this table, they break bread and drink wine; they laugh and they cry. No words are spoken. They aren’t needed. They know; they know the end is near. Yet, they rejoice, bound and filled by the body and blood. As their Clocks begins to wind down, the joy of spiritual and interpersonal Communion out weighs and over powers their natural propensity to fear….

January showed up a little over a month ago. Whenever January comes to town, she forces people to think on the past and project toward the future. Usually I do whatever it takes to deliberately escape from her mighty hand, but this year, maybe because of my old age and failing limbs, she fetched me as I broke for it. So, I dwelled upon the previous calendar year, and really, the previous years.

Throughout our life, we are always trying to piece together the brokenness, whatever we deem it to be. Once the brokenness becomes a whole, we believe that our greater and overarching brokenness, the brokenness seeded within us, will no longer be present. As January acknowledges this relationship between our external and internal brokenness, does its external fusion really lead to an internal satisfaction?

I came to recognize that ever since college began, I have had no church home. I know and love many people within the church, but my frustration and laziness paralyzed me from giving my heart to any particular physical church. I was repulsed by the thought that I had been in “pastoral” roles over students, yet I deprived myself of Christ’s nourishment through his Church. I also understand that faith and growth occurs outside the physical institution but to intentionally forsake it reeks of pride. Well, as soon as January came, her suffocating grip gently urged me toward a decision and allowed me no more freedom to banter with her rationale.

As I prayed and sifted through the endless possibilities, I was introduced to a small Anglican church in Farmers Branch. Now, I bring this whole topic up not because of the church itself (I say that, but the people and the place has been an incredibly gracious gift of God’s), but instead because of a solitary act they participate in each week: the Eucharist.

Ever since I went to UD and I went to my first mass, I have been enamored with the Eucharist. I was shocked to find that the centrality of the Mass was the body and blood and not the sermon/homily. My protestant and evangelical background centered their “mass” around pastor and his sermon. The Lord’s Supper, as many evangelicals refer to it, was a symbol, a representation of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice for mankind. Many churches only take of the Lord’s Supper once a month.

I remember talking to one of my friends back home after my first experience at a mass while studying in Rome. I remember trying to put into words the beauty of a service completely dedicated to Jesus’ precious, yet hideous sacrifice. I remember being outside, along the outer wall of our classroom, pacing back and forth and forth and back — my heart racing from its power — and I wasn’t even allowed to take it!

As I participated in this small Anglican service that meets in a somewhat aesthetically strange warehouse space surrounded by furniture stores, I took of the Eucharist with a broken, searching, empty heart. They gave; they blessed; I took; I ate; I drank; I prayed.

Almost instantaneously, God granted me a sense of unity with His Spirit and his people. Comfort, peace, and thanksgiving overwhelmed my dry soul. The music failed to soak it; the prayers contained less moisture than a morning dew; the sermon was only a mirage in the middle of the desert. But the Eucharist brought forth the rain water from the firmament, enriching the desperate, broken earth.

Now, I’m not to the point where I subscribe to the Catholic Church’s doctrine on the Eucharist, but I can honestly say that I don’t subscribe to the Evangelical perspective either. Many of the Church’s confusing doctrine comes down to this simple and beautiful conclusion: divine mystery. This same mystery lead the monks’ in Algeria to find complete peace in their martyrdom. While my experience pales in comparison to the monks from the movie, this experience of mine is all that I can glean from.

The beauty and grace that consumed me can only be described as a mysterious gift that rights my wayward heart toward the shore of the one who’s body broke and who’s blood shed for me. Every time I take of the bread and wine, I gaze upon the wind-filled sail and thank God for blowing me in his right direction.

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