I woke up alone at 2am Saturday night, to the sound of my own sobbing.
I went to bed thinking about my friends in Houston, in the middle of the hurricane. And then I dreamed that I was actually in Houston, in the home of a man I did not know, who was giving me a tour of his home after the storm. His red and white house was bright and beautiful, had already been almost completely repaired. On the wall, I saw several pictures of a beautiful big dog, and I asked my new friend about him. I watched tears fill his eyes.
“Oh,” he said, looking down. “That’s Doctor Jay, my dog. We lost him in the storm. Somehow he got out, during the flood, and must have got swept up in the current somehow. We never saw him after that night. That dog was the light of my life. As grateful as I am for everybody’s help rebuilding this old place, I don’t know if I’ll ever get over losing that damn dog.”
Reality, after divorce, flicks and flickers, in and out. And it was if that moment, in the dream, sucked me into another place: the feeling that I let my whole old life out into the current, never to see it again. The feeling of not seeing my beloved little dog Cybil—who seems to kind of symbolize everything innocent and good about the life I had before—in over two years. I let her out into the night, like Doctor Jay, never to return, a casualty of the storm that was in me at the time.
That’s when I woke myself up, sobbing hard into the pillow.
I couldn’t go back to sleep after that.
When I first went to bed the night before, I was excited to have a rare Sunday off from preaching anywhere, looking forward to going to my home church in Tulsa, Christ Church, and then to go hear my friend Chris Green preach at my former church, Sanctuary. But by the time the morning rolled around, my heart was jagged from my dream and subsequent sleeplessness. I walked into my beautiful little Episcopal Church in South Tulsa, limping.
I liked the service there. I always do. But it didn’t make me feel any better. Finally, when it was time to come down to the front, row by row, to kneel and receive the Eucharist, I gathered the fractured pieces of myself, and laid them down at the altar as I opened my hands to receive the body of Christ. I ate the bread. I drank the wine from the common cup. The medicine went to work inside me, immediately. His body, broken for mine, mending my own brokenness—fragments, softly, melding back together, making me one again—if for a moment.
This is one thing the Lord’s Supper always means to me: mending, within myself.
I went from there to Sanctuary for their late service, where I served as Teaching Pastor for just under 2 years. It’s a wonderful church, full of wonderful people. I still love the folks there. And I love to hear Chris preach, so was happy to be there in support of him.
About halfway through the sermon, still feeling hungover from my short night of sleep, I felt myself becoming agitated. There was a couple sitting in my line of sight to my right, whom I never got to know well—but harbored some ambiguous feelings for. I have no judgment of them. I never got to spend time with them, really. All I knew was this: the limited interactions I had with them when I was on staff, felt chilly. And then I preached a sermon last summer, after Terence Crutcher was shot in Tulsa, from the lectionary text that day—on the rich man and Lazarus. I called the sermon “the great divide between us,” and talked about the reality of racism in our city, in our country, and in our hearts. This couple stormed out midway through the sermon, apparently offended—as I was told later, at the notion of systemic racism, at the idea that we are all complicit in the world we have created. Evidently, they took this as some kind of blame, though I recall at the time feeling like I intentionally tried to preach from a posture of repentance, owning my own complicity in the world I had helped to make.
A few months later, after I announced I was leaving the church to speak and write full-time, the couple came back to church the following Sunday, and was there the last few weeks until I was actually gone. The timing of this, was clearly not incidental :) I was the reason they left; my leaving was the reason they felt they could come back.
So I’m sitting there, and start to mull this over, and feel the acid rise in my belly. I start to seethe, a little, almost certainly over sensitive from my lack of sleep. And in the deepest part of me, in that place where sometimes I know things I have no way of knowing and hear things I have no way of hearing, I heard that voice, soft but clear: “you are going to receive communion from them today.”
I bristled. In fact, I thought “you have to be $%^&ing kidding me!?” so loud in my head, I’m surprised I didn’t accidentally say it out loud.
I try to ignore this whole inner-conversation. They always have four couples serve at every service. The thought that somehow they would happen to be serving the section I was sitting in was sleeplessness, not the Spirit. I shrugged it off.
And of course when it was time to receive the elements, and four couples came down to the floor to serve, they walk down center left of the stage ahead of where I’m sitting.
I cussed in my head again.
“God—this is why I love you. And also why I don’t appreciate you at all, sometimes,” I thought. It would one thing to SERVE to someone I feel estranged from--I feel I could serve the meal, to anyone. But for them to serve me?!
And I came forward, and received Christ’s body through this couple I harbored petty resentment toward, and felt the blood of cross melt my hard heart, without my consent.
The first communion that day, mended the division in me. The second communion that day, mended the division between me and someone else. I know good and well that I have no right to hold on to some ridiculous feelings towards these folks I barely knew, whose story I do not fully know. I know good and well such things only stoke the fire of a dangerous self-righteousness in me, and should not be given a place. But I do not have the power to change such things in me—only the Eucharist is able to change any of that.
I tell this whole story, to tell you two things:
- The Lord’s supper mends, and heals.
- The Lord’s supper calls us to repentance.
You cannot have one, without the other. In my long piece yesterday, I wrote toward the end about how the Lord’s supper is the antidote to all of our rage, sin and division. The Eucharist isserious business. I am not exempt from the conviction it brings, anymore than I am exempt from the comfort it brings. It works for me, and works in me. I believe it will work for you.
It is central to the mystery—somehow the broken body of Christ binds us up in our own broken places, and his brokenness mends our own: both what is broken within us, and what is broken between ourselves, and others.
Thanks be to God.