by Jenna Olson
I gave up communion for Lent.
“What?!” “Why would you do that?” “But communion is a good thing; why give up a good thing?” they all responded.
It is confusing, and it’s weird. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t completely decide to do it until my body refused to get up for it on Ash Wednesday. I wanted to choose a practice that would help me recognize my brokenness, the hurt I bring to my relationships, the ego that so easily takes over me. I don’t think I feel that weight enough, and I wanted to, because Lent. So I gave up communion. For three reasons:
One. I think I’ve gotten too used to it. I expect it, I don’t like when it’s not there, leaving me desiring its practice without feeling the weight of its meaning, including eating with the Saints, being most present with Christ, and becoming free of my sin. So I decided to use these 40 days to feel the weight of my sin, my brokenness, the death I bring to this world. I want to feel the separation my sin creates, between God, my neighbors, and myself. I want to feel unwelcome at the table, because without the grace and mercy of God, I am unwelcome at the table.
Two. I felt I could use this time to be in solidarity with my brothers and sisters around the world who do not have the luxury of having communion as often as I do. I spent last summer at a parish in Tanzania where they only have communion twice every year because it’s so expensive. It’s the rare, not the normal. And I want to trust that even though they cannot physically go to the table every week, they are still with me. And even though I have chosen not to go to the table during this time, I still eat with them. God has brought us together, and the Meal definitely helps us to feel that union, but I trust God’s Spirit is in us even without it. The Spirit has brought us together and is present in all of us even without the gift of communion.
Three. The disciples didn’t have this meal until the last supper, decades into their lives. They had felt this very real separation from God until Jesus came; they felt the distance of the covenant until the veil was torn as Jesus’ body was crucified. So in this practice of giving up communion, I am experiencing the change they felt, the new covenant being made that they witnessed, the presence of God in a completely new way. And through this time of separation, I will await new life, the new covenant, and full union with God.
I haven’t finished these 40 days quite yet, but I can tell you that this Lenten practice has been very jarring to me some days and completely inconsequential others. I can tell you that the isolation I feel while sitting in the pews watching everyone else receive the body and blood is heavy, almost unbearably humbling. I can tell you the feeling of seeing the host at Catholic mass, being so close to it, and then becoming aware of the space in between, is agonizing. I can tell you that the words of confession have become very real to me, reading some form of them daily because it helps me deal with the weight that I feel when I’m aware of my brokenness; I can tell you that these words of confession lead me to recognize my real need for and unworthiness of forgiveness, but that I know that that is who God is. I can tell you that I am eagerly awaiting approaching the table on Easter morning, joined with all the Saints above and in Tanzania, welcomed and joined forever with God, tasting the foretaste of the feast to come.
The veil will be torn. The weight of my sin will be no more. New life will be felt. And the table will once again be home.