Like most Protestants, I grew up with the "cup" portion of communion as that highly sanitized, generally inoffensive tray of mini-cups passed down the aisles. You know the one I mean--the one that looks like two car upholders got together and had an out-of-control multiple birth. The only concerning thing about this tray is the fear that you might potentially spill the whole thing as you try to deftly hold with one hand, extract cup with the other. This could be its own Church Extreme Sport. But once you've withdrawn your mini-cup, you're in the clear. "This do in remembrance of me," and down it goes into a second cupholder awaiting it on the back of the pew. (Where do they get this stuff? Is there a catalog? And does it also include all-occasion biblical robes?) At any rate, when I became Catholic, like most Protestant converts, I was rather apprehensive about the Catholic experience of The Cup. Like, I am not exactly jumping at the chance to sip out of other people's Frescas…and you're telling me to put my mouth on that thing that every single other person in line has just put their mouth on? It's enough to make you want to sit in the front row to be First Drinker. I don't mind sharing a drink with my husband or my children, because I know they don't have cooties. But as for everyone else in church…well, the statistics are not terribly encouraging.
I've generally dealt with my misgivings about The Cup in the fifteen months since I've been Catholic. Like most things, if you do it enough, it begins to feel normal and safe. (Plus, the alcohol in the wine acts as a sanitizing agent--bonus!) Yesterday, however, I had an experience that reminded me of my earlier trepidation and also opened my eyes to new insights on this crazy-amazing thing we call communion.
Anthony and I were celebrating our sixth anniversary on Coronado and decided to go to the Saturday evening mass on the island. As communion began and we filed into the center aisle to process toward the elements, a few of the people in front of me caught my attention. Hmm, I thought. That's one weird-lookin' lady. Who told her that outfit looked okay?…And what's with that old guy? Yikes. It's called a toothbrush. With every step, I began to feel more apprehensive about that Cup. Began to doubt whether I wanted to drink from it this particular mass. Maybe I'd just skip it. They say Christ is fully present in either element. I don't have to take the wine today.
Still, something in me desired the completeness of body and blood, taken as they were given: together. So I stood in line, bowed in reverence, and took The Cup. But I walked away, I realized something was terribly wrong. What was this on my tongue? It had definitely come from The Cup. Oh no, I just got a piece of someone else's bread from the cup!
I didn't know what to do. Reach in and take it out of my mouth? Then what? You can't dispose of the Body of Christ, for goodness' sake! So I swallowed it. And was sincerely bothered for the next several minutes. But somewhere along the line, the symbolism began to dawn on me: me getting a piece of someone else's bread is like a picture of the Church. Here I am judging my brothers and sisters in Christ, trying to keep my distance from those I deem undesirable, when God allows exactly what I feared to occur. He allows me to come into contact with another in an uncomfortable way for the purpose of unity in His body. Communion and all it entails reflects the truth that we are one; Christ makes us one, and sometimes it is uncomfortable, sometimes it is awkward, sometimes it is downright gross. Yet here we are--His body, His beloved. And where Christ is, the boundaries, walls, and judgments that would keep us apart can come down. He calls each of us to the table, whether we are an "undesirable" or a judgmental sinner like me. It is one Christ we all receive in the elements, and through Him, we are unified.
I'm not eager to have this experience again--though, presumably, it's only a matter of time--but I know it taught me about God's character and my foolishness. To receive Christ in any way is worth the risk of my 21st-century squeamishness. One bread, one body, one Lord of all.