- Paul Burkhart
Yeah, that’s my family (I’m in the front left). This was one Easter Sunday in the 90’s in Dallas, Texas, at a time and place where (I promise) it was absolutely appropriate to dress like that for Easter (except the glasses, of course). I look at this picture a lot, and not just to chuckle. I find it so oddly and powerfully symbolic of what life in the Bible Belt was like.
You see, my family was deeply wounded by “Church folk” throughout my childhood. Just as in the picture, people in the Church would live their Christian lives dressed up and looking good, all while wearing masks, disguising who they really were. When things were hard at home, people at church had no categories to process it. After all, to be a Christian is to be cleansed by Jesus and walk in new life, right? Failures, sins, and brokenness were seen as signs of some disobedience - some place where you weren’t “okay.”
And so when we as a family would approach people with our pain, no one knew how to accept us, love us, and help us. Just as in this picture, it turned Christianity into a caricature, a comedy of what it truly is.
I used to have a lot of anger towards those I grew up with—especially the ones that were far more interested that my doctrine was right or I had a certain view of the Bible than if my soul was flourishing—but as I have gotten older, I hope I’ve gained perspective. If I’m honest, they were probably acting more out of insecurity than genuine and pure self-righteousness.
Maybe you’ve been hurt by people in the Church, and the wounds go really deep. Perhaps you look in the broader society and see how other people who share your spiritual “family name” seem to make a mockery of it and act ridiculous. Or maybe you just get frustrated that you go to church and no one talks to you, asks your name, and shows any interest in getting to know you. Maybe you yourself have done the hurting (I know I have).
Let me let you in on where I find encouragement while navigating these realities: Communion.
Sacraments are the physical, tangible ways that God teaches Christianity to our other senses. We listen to a sermon with our ears, and sing songs with our voices, but God respects our humanity enough that he is eager to meet us in our whole person.
Communion teaches us who we are as Christians. It tells our story all while bringing us in closer “communion” with both God and others around us. This is why the Apostle Paul tells us not to come and take the elements if there’s any “bad blood” (pun intended) between those entities and us.
But Communion isn’t only what you do after you have dealt with whatever issues and conflict are in your heart between you and God and others. It’s also the place where those things are reconciled. As my pastor beautifully put it this past week, Communion isn’t just a place to remember past things, or experience present things, but also to hope for better things.
In an odd turn of phrase, the Bible refers to all believers as the “body” of Christ. He also refers to the bread as his “body”. What this means, what’s encouraging in this, and what we should always remember is this:
The only Christian Body—be it Christ, bread, or people—that Jesus ever gives us is a broken and wounded one.
What’s even more staggering is that this, precisely, is what he calls good news.
So the next time you find yourself embarrassed by or hurt by people in the Church—or even when you do the hurting—and you find yourself wondering why this is and what can be done, I pray you can find an answer and encouragement by really taking in these holy, ancient words the next time you come to the Table:
This is Christ’s Body, broken for you.
Paul Burkhart works in Social Work in Philadelphia, PA. He is finishing up his Masters of Divinity through the Newbigin House of Studies at Western Theological Seminary. He hopes to continue work in counseling, theology, and writing. He has a presence on far too many websites and takes coffee far too seriously. He blogs regularly at the long way home. Read his blog at blog.ProdigalPaul.com and be sure to follow him on twitter: @PaulBurkhart_.