This is part of a series: Rituals for Resistance. If we take seriously the idea that churches are to be base communities for resistance then our rituals as communities should strengthen us for the work of resisting the dominant narratives of the United States. I want to think through some of the things a lot of church communities already do and reframe them as tools for resistance. If you’ve missed any, you can catch up!
I think one of the most interesting/vital rituals that the church has is the Eucharist I want to spend the next several Fridays looking at the Eucharist and the ways in which it can become a ritual for resistance. Last week I shared some of my experiences with the eucharist while I was growing up. I shared how the way we did communion always made me feel anxious and unworthy and not at all part of the community.
One of the books that has really impacted my thoughts on the Eucharist is Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality by Richard Beck. Honestly, an amazing book. I’m going to talk about it a little in this post, but really I think you just need to read it.
Beck is a psychologist and writes about the psychology of purity and how it affects the way that we do church. His first section talks about how the mind makes things unclean, how, say, if there is even a drop of urine in a swimming pool of red wine, we will think of the entire pool as contaminated. He sees that sin works in much the same way, especially sins that our culture has added a lot of moral weight to (see: all sexual “sins” ever), so that if someone participates in one of those “sins” (I’m using quotes because I don’t think thing like being queer or having queer sex is a sin) then they are forever tainted and become not worthy to be full participants in the life of the church and (in some churches) to partake in the Eucharist.
The amazing thing about Beck’s book is how he sees the life of Jesus, particularly in his acts of table fellowship and the Eucharist, to be directly confronting this psychology of disgust. Beck makes the case that Eucharist can be one of the most profound rituals for resistance that the church has by arguing for a completely open table.
“What is striking about the gospel accounts is how Jesus reverses negativity dominance. Jesus is, to coin a term, positivity dominant. Contact with Jesus purifies. A missional church embraces this reversal, following Jesus into the world without fears of contamination. But it is important to note that this is a deeply counterintuitive position to take. Nothing in our experience suggests that this should be the case. The missional church will always be swimming against the tide of disgust psychology, always tempted to separate, withdraw, and quarantine.” (page 30)
I was first introduced to the idea of an open table when I worked at a United Methodist church and it made me profoundly uncomfortable as I had been son ingrained to think of eating and drinking “unworthily” as being a crime punishable by death (I am not even exaggerating a little). But the Pastor was clear in his invitation, God loved you before you could even love yourself. And God forgave you before you even asked for it. That kind of radical grace was vital to me as a queer young adult who was feeling pushed out of my church and therefore also pushed out of communion with God.
The other person who has spoken eloquently about the open table is Sara Miles. She speaks in Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion about walking into a church as an adult and being profoundly affected by taking communion. The church she went to, St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco, preached that the table belongs to God and not the church and therefore it was God’s gift to give away.
For queer people it can be a radical act to say that we belong at the table. It can be an act of resistance to go forward and take part in the mystery. And it can be a radical act to open the table to all people, even the ones that society says are “unworthy”. At the Eucharist table we preach a God who welcomes all and when we eat the bread and wine we say that we all belong to the body of God and therefore we are worthy. It is a beautiful thing.
But there can be a dark side to the open table; what happens when we are asked to eat with our oppressors? We’ll talk about that next Friday.
Have you had any experiences with the Eucharist that were transformative for you? Please share them in the comments or send me an email!
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