I am fairly comfortable with the historic Baptist position on the Lord’s Supper. In other words, I find the way it is observed and talked about in most Baptist churches today to be dismally inadequate. I may not agree with you about the philosophical and theological niceties of how Christ is present in the bread and the cup, but please place me in the “real presence” column and not in the “real absence” camp of most of my contemporary fellow Baptists.
I prefer to live in a sacramentally charged world where even everyday, earthy things can be conduits of grace. I’ve been thinking of a couple of incidents that may explain what I mean by that unBaptist statement. Both of them point to fresh ways traditionally non-sacramentally minded folk might think about Communion and its importance. If nothing else, perhaps these illustrations can help others see why this is an important issue for me.
Connie was a preschool teacher in Louisville. Jonathan was one of her two-year olds. One day on the playground, Jonathan gave Connie a rock. “Here, Miss Tonnie: a rock!” and he proudly plopped it into her waiting hand.
Later, Jonathan’s mother explained what a great honor it was to be given one of Jonathan’s rocks. He didn’t give them to just anybody, you see. He loved to play with them on the playground, pick them up, feel their weight and texture, look at their shapes and colors. He was just fascinated with rocks. For all I know, Jonathan is hoping to enter the University of Louisville in the next couple years as a geology major!
Connie has cherished that rock for over fifteen years. It was one of the sentimental treasures we were sad we lost when our house was burglarized last year.
But it’s only a rock, right? Why should anyone get so worked up about a rock?
Sure, it was only a rock to people who didn’t know the story—who didn’t live the story. In itself, it was just an aggregate of silicon, oxygen, and other elements, a perfectly ordinary product of geological processes at work before any of us were born. But when Jonathan took it in his hands that rock was transformed. When he gave it to Connie, he was giving her a part of himself. Nor did it matter that Connie was clueless about what the rock meant. Now she knows, and she’s genuinely sad and frustrated that she no longer has it.
At big family get-togethers, we make “Henrietta Rolls.” They are absolutely delicious, but they are also a lot of work. You have to mix up the dough and then let it rise, then let it rise again. Then you have to punch out little circles of dough, slather them in butter, and set them aside until you’re ready to bake them. We call them Henrietta Rolls because my Mom got the recipe from Henrietta, who was the leader of one of her civic clubs when she was younger. Henrietta made the rolls for Mom and the other young ladies and shared the recipe with them. They’ve been Henrietta Rolls ever since.
We had company over for Christmas dinner and mom told the story of the rolls and remarked about how it always brought back fond memories when she makes them. Rebecca was hearing the story for the first time, and when Mom started talking about how the rolls reminded her of special times, she offered this powerful theologoumenon: “They’re a memory you can eat!”
That’s it exactly! The eating is pleasant enough, but the whole experience—mixing the dough, kneading it, shaping it, buttering it, baking it—has far greater significance than the taste of the finished product. If you don’t know the story, it’s just a roll—the best roll you’ve ever tasted, I guarantee, but still just a tiny morsel of bread. Once you know the story, and once you’ve lived it in the kitchen of people you love, you know it’s something more.
I never knew Henrietta. Whenever I eat those rolls I can’t help but think of family feasts or a house full of honored guests—my Dad’s basketball teams, my Mom’s parliamentarians, or just the friends who always used to come to my parents’ New Year’s Day open house. I remember my grandmother and my Aunt Lena helping to bake sheet after sheet of the things!
Connie usually refers to them not as Henrietta Rolls but as Grandmommy Rolls. I’ve got a feeling that’s what Rebecca will be calling them decades from now.
Why is the Lord’s Supper so important to me? Because it is a gift Jesus gave us, and therefore we ought to receive it graciously and gratefully. And, because faith tells me there’s more to it than a tiny morsel of bread.
It is a memory we can eat.