“Jesus Tastes like Cardboard”

I have always been fascinated with the Lord’s Supper. I was such a literally-thinking child that I used to understand it more as a sort of Eucharist—like I was actually eating Christ’s body and blood. Once my parents ironed that one out, I still thought it was an interesting thing. I’ve always been a bit imaginative, and a romantic. So when we, at our Baptist church, had a sort of ritual—where everyone had to be so quiet they could barely breathe and perform certain actions at prescribed times—I liked the feel of it, and the differentiation from the usual routine of three hymns, offering, a special, and a sermon. As a little girl, the Lord’s Supper reminded me of big words and dust, of mysticism and ‘the ancients.’ And I always got a warm feeling I couldn’t quite describe. I felt connected… to generations of Christians in Roman catacombs and European crypts and New England Churchyards.

And though I may not have understood the entire purpose of the procedure, I wasn’t too far off. I know today that the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, binds us together as a community. We share in and remember the sacrifice that Jesus gave for us. We remind ourselves that we are connected to each other by the same grace and the same savior. We feel intensely the bond between the future and the present. The young and the old. The saints, the apostles, the poets, the priests, the kings, the peasants, the natives, and the immigrants. In the words of C. S. Lewis, we remember our affinity with the Church as she truly is: “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners” (Screwtape Letters).

I have never lost my fascination with Communion. I wrote a couple of papers on its theology and practice in college, and I have experienced it in a handful of different ways with people from vastly different places in the world. I have come to see Communion, at least in my life, as a mile-marker, or a thermometer. It measures and records where I am with God, where I am physically, and what I am learning. There was a time when I experienced Communion as a solemn, solitary thing. I felt legalistically that I must confess every sin from my past and leave no stone unturned to be worthy to eat my wafer and swig my grape juice. I didn’t have the whole picture, but I was learning about the fear of the Lord, and about a holiness so pure and so complete as to be unapproachable. Later, I learned of our Father’s unfathomable forgiveness and grace, and of how he ate the Last Supper with his friends as brothers. I began to take Communion at more ease, understanding, while it is still a holy observance, my worthiness of it was never the point.

As I began to respond to God’s call to missions, I experienced Communion in different cultures. I served for a summer in inner-city Houston during high school, storying the Word, learning about people less fortunate than I, and discovering how to engage them as Jesus would. There I visited a church with friends I had closely bonded with. In Remembrance, we ate pinches off of a single loaf of real bread and took sips from a single cup. I was learning how people can be different from each other and worship in contrasting ways, yet be closely bonded and serve the same God wholeheartedly. Communion had its first savor of friendship for me. Jesus’ blood and body tasted… friendly. Like the communal parts of his message. It reminded me of the time long ago when 5,000 assorted and sundry people shared five loaves of bread as they listened to the Teacher.

I tell you these stories not to say that I have always had super-spiritual Communions and always prepared myself enough. I would be lying if I told you I had never gotten bored or failed to dig in down to my elbows and really remember the pain Jesus went through for my fellow believers and me. I went to a small, private, Christian college, and as a freshman, it was my Sunday ritual to grab a group of friends and go visit a new church. One time I took two friends to a yellowing, musty church downtown. We walked into the old, cavernous building and claimed a pew with a brilliant red velvet cushion, one of the vacant pews in the back third of the church that puffed with dust when we sat down. We sang the oldest hymns in the hymnal with words only a few could understand. Then we heard a brief sermon and accepted a pale, lifeless-looking wafer and a tiny plastic cup with half a swallow of grape juice. After we ate and drank, one of my friends, who didn’t grow up going to church, said in a carrying whisper, “Jesus tastes like cardboard!” I didn’t realize then the profound, if unintentional, wisdom of her words. The Jesus we often serve up in our dying, creaky, old churches tastes dry, boring, and stale. But the Jesus in the pages of my Bible is anything but cardboard. He has humor, and sarcasm, and severity, and intensity, and compassion, and irritation, and penetrating wisdom, and authoritative teachings. He is full of abundant life. The Jesus we share in our communion should be that Jesus. He should taste like life and love and repentance and wholeness. Not cardboard.

My favorite Communion to date occurred in Romania, wedged in-between members of the family that took me in for a month while I worked with the Roma people. I felt a tangible connectedness with people I could barely speak to as we sat rubbing shoulders and laughing with joy. I felt the warm, vibrant love of Christ pulsing between us like a circulatory system while we were squished together into the tiny building. To this day I don’t have words to describe the connectedness I felt. We cut up a loaf of bread just like those we used at each meal and all took a piece. We passed a bottle around and all drank from it. That day Jesus’ sacrifice tasted like family. And the mysterious bond of unity God gives his people across time and place. I was learning about the grace we share and the body broken for all of us. In Philippians 1:7, Paul says “… whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” No matter our location or situation, we as the Church are united by God’s grace—a single Body broken for the Church body. From that day on, Communion has never been a solitary thing for me.

Yesterday I had what will probably be my last communion with my home Church family for at least the next two years. And this time I took it with 9 people squeezed onto a 5-person pew. My family all sat to my left and I sat with a child on either side in my arms and one on my lap. I could smell their minty gum breath and the oils in the hair of the girl on my lap and the unwashed clothes they came to church in. They don’t have parents or a big sister or brother who’ll bring them to church. My family and I were happy to have them. I know that in time they’ll grow up and get to taste the Lord’s Supper for themselves and learn about what it means. I know that because of their inclusion in our church family, their lives have already changed and they have begun maturing. And as I ate Communion wedged between and under those beautiful blessings, Jesus tasted like the hope of a different life, the peace that can calm even a child from a broken home, and the unsurpassable love of our Savior. Jesus didn’t taste like cardboard. He tasted like let the little children come, and the joy of the kingdom of God. My prayer for you, reader, is that wherever you are, and whatever your communion looks like, that your Jesus wouldn’t taste like cardboard. Let him work in your life and shine through so that when the people you rub shoulders with partake of the Jesus in your life, he would taste like family, like love, like miracles and acceptance and salvation and joy and healing. And let us strive together toward this goal, in communion with each other and with our God.