Luke 22: 19-20: Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Originally I hadn’t planned on writing about the Last Supper. It isn’t that this part of the narrative is uninteresting or lacks meaning, but I just wasn’t sure how it applied to the trans experience. I couldn’t seem to find a correlary in my own journey. Recently, though, I received an email that changed my thinking and is causing me to write this post, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
This is a well known scene in the narrative. It carries some of what I would wager are the most oft-spoken words in the Christian tradition. We call them the “word of institution” and they are recited every time we take communion. The words are so well known that they seem to lose their meaning. But lets imagine we’re sitting in that room, we are the disciples, we are having Passover with our teacher; our friend. Things have been heated lately and we’re not sure what’s coming next. There is tension in the room. Judas is acting weird and we’re not sure what’s going on. Peter is being his usual blustery self, proclaiming that he’ll follow Jesus unto death. And Jesus keeps talking about how he’s going to suffer and die. It all seems like too much to handle.
Then they all sit down to have dinner. It’s like the ultimate television sitcom dinner. The dysfunctional family gathers for the Thanksgiving meal and secrets are revealed! There is fighting amongst the passing of the mashed potatoes. Then Jesus stands up. He takes this loaf of bread and breaks it in half and claims that it’s his body given for them. I’m sure some of them were thinking that maybe he’d lost it. I mean, bread as his body? And broken for them? What does that even mean? Even if they did believe he was going to suffer and die (which it seems like they still weren’t buying), how would it be for them? For the political movement maybe, but for them? And really how would his death help anything? If he died then that’s it. He’d be dead and they’d be left alone and nothing would change. So what’s all of this talk about being broken for them?
Then he raises a glass and says that the wine is his blood. It’s poured out for them and is part of a new covenant. More weird talk. A covenant they could understand; covenants were a part of their community life. And maybe even blood being poured out makes sense, but the blood of an animal, not a person.
The text doesn’t give us a lot to go on. This scene happens and then the story quickly moves on. For such a large rite of the church it doesn’t get a lot of airtime. We get more of the story in Paul’s letters, but by that time it was already a rite of the church. What about this small scene captivated the early church enough to make it a part of their regular worship? And how in the world does this relate to the experience of transition?
Like I said I was resisting writing about this passage. Jesus is very clear in his language here; this was his body broken for other people; his blood poured out for other people. So much of the way I have told my own story has been the complete opposite. I needed to reiterate over and over that I transitioned for myself. That it wasn’t because I couldn’t deal with being seen as a visibly queer person, that it wasn’t because it’s easier to be a man, that it wasn’t get male privilege, that it wasn’t to fit in better, or to buy into the binary. And those things aren’t the reason that I transitioned. In some ways transitioning was a selfish act; I needed to be seen as who I really am. I needed to be in a body that was the right body. It wasn’t for other people. In fact, the moment I realized that I truly needed to transition was when I realized that even if I lost my family, my partner, everything and every one that I cared about I would still need to transition. That was when I knew that transitioning was right for me. So how could I possibly say that this was my body broken for other people? That I shed my blood for other people?
We come back to the email: I have a little sister. She’ll turn eleven this summer. My mom sent me an email saying that my little sister’s class was writing an “operetta” on heroes and she chose me as her hero. Now, my mom hasn’t told my sister about my transition, but my sister has seen me since I started transition, we talk on the phone. In a lot of ways I know that she gets it even without being told. She might not have the language but she has seen me undergo transition. And I am still her sibling and she claims me as her hero. And I realized that in some ways I transitioned for her.
As her older sibling, I want my sister to be happy in the world. To be at peace in her own skin. I want her to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and love who she sees. I want her to walk through the world with her head held high. I want her to be her most authentic self at all times. How could I possibly inspire her to be herself if I wasn’t being myself? If every time I looked in the mirror I hated the person I saw staring back at me? If I continued to walk with my shoulders rounded in order to hide my chest? If, once I started transition, I avoided coming home to see my family because I didn’t want them to know about me? How could I possibly be an example to her if I hated myself and was ashamed of my life?
This is my body, broken for you, so that you understand that sometimes you have to do hard things that no one else understands in order to be true to yourself. Sometimes people will hate your body or judge your body; whether because of how it looks, what color your skin is, or who you love with it. But that doesn’t matter. What really matters is that you can look in the mirror and love who you are. This is my body, broken for you so that we can both learn to hold our heads up high. So we can learn to look in the mirror and love what we see.
This is my blood, shed for you, so that you know that even if you have to bleed you know you will be okay in the end. So that you know that we are family and that the same blood runs through both our veins even if you are grafted into the family by adoption or marriage or whatever. We are family. This is my blood shed for you so that you understand that doing the things you know are right, even when people don’t agree, isn’t enough to make the people who matter stop loving you.
Jesus knew that even after he died that he would be remembered and carried on in the lives of the people who loved him. And he knew that by living the life he was called to, even if it meant death, was a better example for the people he loved than playing it safe and living unscathed.
That is the legacy I want my siblings to have. To know that a life lived truly, authentically, bodily is a life well lived. That to follow your heart, to follow your gut, even if it leads you to scary places is worth it. I want them to know that no matter who they are they will be held in my embrace and loved. So I broke my body for them, so that I could show them that even with scars you can be okay. To be wholly yourself, living wholly in your body is a holy endeavor.
This is my body. This is my blood. For you.