Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Broken Bodies

"This is my body which shall be broken for you..."

These are the words I have been using during communion for the last few weeks. While the traditional language in the Book of Worship uses present tense ("This is my body, broken for you"), I have been using future tense as a way of representing the time-limited nature of this event. These are, after all, the words Jesus spoke to his friends about what was going to happen the next day. I use the future tense as a way to place this event in its sequential context and to represent the actual breaking of Jesus' body for his religious, political and social transgresions against the dominant structures of power.

In recent months this breaking of Jesus' body has taken on a particular significance for me. In a world where people face daily violence and death, in a country where our governemt uses tactics of torture and terror to "fight terrorism,"and in a denomination (and wider Church) where people's bodies and spirits are broken daily because of unjust doctrine and polity, Jesus' own experience of being broken is important to me. I need a God who knows my pain.

The fact that Jesus, the embodiment of the Divine on earth, knows our pain and struggle helps us to see God, not as a paternalistic and detached diety who only offers pity for our suffering, but rather as a truly empathic presence who through the very body of the Divine takes on human suffering. That God struggles and suffers with us is radical. In this way, we have a God who is in intimate solidarity with us, who knows our pain, and who offers not pity, but compassion.

Yet, when we focus soley on the broken body of Jesus, neglecting to move beyond the cross to the resurrection, we risk becoming paralyzed in our own struggles, re-traumatizing those who have suffered and glorifying suffering in and of itself.

June Goudy writes in her book, The Feast of Our Lives: Re-Imaging Communion, "the use of the eucharistic images of body and blood, which suggest the trauma of Jesus' violent death on the cross as well as the identification of his death as a new means of life, strikes many believers as a denial of their pain and a re-traumatizing of their personal lives. If memories of one's own blood being spilled or one's body being bruised are stored in one's body, then it is difficult to have God's presence associated with victimization."

Let's be clear, the power of the crucifixion lies not in the torture and murder of a person, but rather in the miraculous way in which life defeats even the most cruel death. It is Jesus' life and his witness to the power of life over death that brings meaning to this horrific event. Jesus did not die to satisfy an angry God, or as a ransom to the devil, or to somehow mystically atone for human sin. Jesus' body was broken because he dared to preach a gospel that transgressed normative religious, social, and political practices and beliefs.

While we cannot ignore the suffering of Jesus' death, we can find alternative meanings in it and in the ritual of communion.

What would it look like to re-image the eucharist? What would it look like to leave behind the funereal focus of liturgical death and suffering, long associated with the ritual of the eucharist, and instead create a festive, life-giving, celebratory ritual of true communion, that is, in the words of Goudy, "a moment of awesome connection and 'radical amazement' that gifts us with the larger truth of our existence?"

What would a re-imagined, re-enlivened, re-newed communion look like for us at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries?

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