A few months back, before the coronavirus pandemic, I had the privilege of serving communion to my church community. In our practice, congregants gather at the front of the church and kneel to receive the Eucharistic elements. Individuals, couples, friends, and families kneel next to one another to receive the body and bread. On this particular day, one of our families made its way to the kneeling area and each member stretched out their hands to receive the bread, to dip in grape juice. I came to the most precocious of the family members first—a little one in elementary school. As I offered her the plate from which to receive the bread, she took a big piece and quickly dipped it into the cup and ate it. I intended to continue on to the next person in her family, but the twinkle in her eye caught my attention. In whispers she asked, “Can I have another one?” She looked mischievous, with her raised eyebrows and slightly turned up smile.
In that moment, we knew that something extraordinary could happen. I didn’t have time to think. If I had, I might’ve remembered Linn Marie Tonstad’s words in Queer Theology (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018), where she says that the ascension of Jesus means that the church doesn’t have Jesus’ body. And that means that “the church can’t control who gets to be or who gets to eat Christ’s body” (125). She writes that “Christians should distribute Christ’s body freely for they do not know where Christ is (except that he is with those in prison and in need) nor does the church control the means of access to Christ” (125). Tonstad is summarizing the ecclesiology she offers in God and Difference, one that isn’t “dependent on reproduction, faithfulness, or patriarchal inheritance” (124). I wasn’t thinking of Tonstad or queer theology or patriarchy or ecclesiology in that moment when I locked eyes with this mischievous young congregant. But we both felt a jolt of subversive liberation—she when she asked for another piece of bread, and me when I gave it to her.
With a little smile and a playful mischievousness of my own, I slipped her another piece of bread. And she gobbled it up with glee.
What rules did we break in that moment? What theological missteps did I make? And what implications might they have for the congregation or the Church as a whole – if our secret got out? These questions don’t interest me. God’s feast, the table we set for all who would receive it, the symbol of our communion, would be utterly meaningless for me, despicable even, if in the moment when a child asks for more, we were required to say “no” and keep walking.
As we continue to stay under lockdown, shelter in place orders, and/or safer at home restrictions during this global pandemic, one point that perhaps could come home to most of us is that we are not in control. Especially now, my hope is that we may apply that lesson anew to the church. We can’t (and shouldn’t want to) control who gets to be Christ’s flesh and blood. Ours is a communion of abundance that welcomes children, immigrants, persons of color, women, LGBTQ persons, colonialized people, poor people, and oppressed people in any form. Ours is a communion that scandalously asks for more nourishment, more friendship, more grace; and scandalously receives.
You touched upon one of the more beautiful aspects of our Faith, the Lord’s Supper.
And wow. how well you drove your point. What a beautiful experience you had with the little one. Even Jesus said, suffer not the children to come to me and you demonstrated similar love and sensitivity. I was touched and moved with the simple yet profound message. May you be enriched deeply as you continue with with monumental journey you seem to be on. Will be cheering you on.