ON SUNDAYS, WHEN OUR KIDS WERE YOUNG we always sat near the front of the church. It’s a vulnerable place for sure, vain-bound me struggling to think more about the sermon than the back of my head where my hair, due to some kind of birth defect, tends to do a stand up colicky thing. When our kids were young there was the additional dilemma of, well, that. Worse case happened one Sunday after communion; the little plastic communion cups neatly placed in their designated holders on the back of the pews. For kids there’s a general understanding that fidgeting isn’t frowned upon so much when a service is ending, and even though I sat a few people down from our son, I could feel the fidgets gaining strength the way popcorn kernels pop muffled and occasional then really go at it right before they hit the lid. One last quiet song to contemplate the body and blood then the benediction.
I don’t remember if it was one of those moments where I was able to connect with the reality of Christ’s sacrifice for me, but when I glanced over our son was looking up at the pastor with plastic communion cups squinched in each eye like some kind of tropical fish.
Last Sunday I was home sick and when my husband returned from church he gave me one of those little post-covid hourglass looking communion dealies; two peel-back sections, one for the body sans gluten and the other for the blood sans alcohol. I put it on my desk in my upstairs office where it sat for a week until last night when I decided to finally partake. I’ve wondered at times if I don’t have a proclivity for sacrilege.
I’ve wondered at times if I don’t have a proclivity for sacrilege.
I was alone upstairs, no reverent music or fellowship of believers, and certainly no stained-glass windows. In fact there wasn’t much of anything, including feelings. I had just spent some time in prayer and honestly, I was frustrated by how numb I felt. I wanted to feel something of God, and his fault or mine, I felt nothing.
Except a bit angry. I did feel angry, or whiny, which informed the somewhat rebellious way I took communion. Why, if I’m longing to feel God’s presence, would he deny me that? To be completely honest as I held the communion cup there was something of a challenge in the way I approached God, because what is communion – even when taken alone — if not a reverent holy moment to feel him? I cried a little as I put the cup to my lips and tipped up my head, not out of thanksgiving, but with that tinge of anger.
I wanted to feel something of God, and his fault or mine, I felt nothing.
What I did feel was something like a tenacity paired with fragility, and when I drank from the tiny plastic cup it was definitely more of a swig than a sip. Like an elephant in the room, I thought it was about time for God and me to finally have ‘the talk.’ Here I was longing to feel his presence but the plastic felt more real to my lips than what it held. Show yourself God. I rarely depart from logic when it comes to the majestic God of the universe, but godlier people have said worse, no?
I was in a car accident once. Everything went black and when I came to all I could hear was a horn that had been triggered into a continual blare. It was terrifying, and for the rest of that day and the next few all I could think about was that while I’d always assumed God would reveal his power and love in moments of trauma, he hadn’t seemed present in any way. I’d felt nothing of him when I most needed him, which was far worse than the crutches and weird little twirly scar I got from the force of the airbag.
Years ago I determined to take up my cross and follow Christ no matter what, but even though I know full well my faith isn’t based on my feelings at times I expect my faith to produce feelings; I’m owed them. But last night I felt nothing but abandoned. My Lord and my God, you have revealed yourself here on this earth from Eden to Gethsemane and right now I feel nothing of the reality of it. I’ve done all the things. I’ve humbled myself before you and chosen to walk with you and confessed every known sin plus add-ons and where are you?
I’ve wondered if John the Baptist, in prison and waiting to be beheaded, didn’t experience more of a blaring horn than the presence of God. If he’d been overwhelmed by God’s presence, would he have felt the need to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” If he spent his short life eating locusts (including their legs) and was now awaiting the removal of his head because he’d chosen to follow Jesus and yet was still anxious enough to want confirmation, it seems to me that at least to some extent he must have felt alone. And yet Jesus told the masses there was no greater man than him.
There was Eden and there was Gethsemane. We walked and talked with God in the garden of Eden, and we follow Christ to the garden of Gethsemane, communion cups in hand, and willingly swallow.
When Jesus was stumbling through Jerusalem getting dissed by the crowds or when he felt the crude iron nails making their way slowly through his palms with each blow of a hammer, or the pain of his shoulders and neck begging to collapse even as his torso had no choice but to remain in place on the cross, I don’t know if he felt his father quietly whispering in his ear how much he loved him, but I know he didn’t when he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Scripture never tells the story otherwise; following Christ is following him through the muck of Jerusalem to the cross. Following him means we drink from the same cup and stay put even if we call out to him and hear nothing. Last night, logic having left me, I was angry about the unreasonableness of it all. Here I was having eaten my share of locusts and he was nowhere to be found.
But (and I must end this with that wonderful, fabulous ‘but’) pull up to the Heavens; look down and view the lay of the land. Our God is who he says he is. He is loving and kind and merciful and just and faithful and sovereign and good and present. I know nothing else of him. Last night he met my challenge kindly, he didn’t roll his eyes and leave me hanging with the elephant in the room, he spread out his hands as though to bring attention to himself and I could only respond with a shy ‘duh.’
*Katherine’s piece originally appeared on her website and is republished here with her permission.