Sunday, January 29, 2012

Toast and Grape Juice

A friend of mine lost her dad to cancer last week. I know that's not really the best way to begin any sort of post, but at least it tells you, invisible reader, that this post will in some way be about death. My friend's dad died of liver cancer, same as my dad. Different kind of liver cancer, but liver cancer. Because her dad got sick before my dad did (he'd been sick for about six years by the time he passed last week), we have had this sort of tandem-like movement over the last few years.

Somewhere in the space between writing a post about living bread and my friend's dad dying, I was reminded of an event I shared with my dad about a month before he died. During the last two months of his life, we saw him go down a pretty steep decline, and even though I'd been preparing for the inevitability of his passing for quite some time, I don't know that I was ready for the reality of it once it arrived--at least, not the INEVITABILITY of it. That's really a story for another time, though; tonight I want to talk about the last and only time I served my dad communion.

As he got sicker and sicker, my dad's appetite slacked off more and more. As my mom tried to find different ways of getting enough protein into him, he lost his taste for one food after another. Toward the end he primarily ate yogurt, popsicles, toast, and grape juice. I've no idea why those foods, but that's where he was. So, anyway, I was in the kitchen of their house, and he kind of hobbled into the room and headed for his favorite recliner. I helped him sit down and cover up with a blanket, and he asked me if I might make him some toast and get him some juice.

As I was toasting the bread, I thought about a story my church history professor told us as she was explaining her understanding of the incarnation. The way she told her story, a few years after relocating to Richmond to begin teaching at seminary, she relocated her parents to Richmond as well. Within a few weeks of the move her father suffered a massive stroke. While sitting next to her father in the hospital room, my professor was thinking of what it meant for Christ to have taken on the "form" of flesh, to have assumed the pattern of what it means to be an embodied human being in addition to having his own physical form, and she had the sudden understanding that if God in Christ has taken on the pattern and form of humanity, he resides in our flesh as well as in his own. I guess it makes sense that it is during these pregnant moments that we get some clarity of our understanding of God and the world, and our relation to both; but during that moment and those shortly after, when I helped my dad sip his grape juice, and served him dry toast, I understood communion in a way that I never did before, and I don't know when in the future I will share communion with people and not think back to that moment with him.

To add to my professor's experience: it became clear to me at some point that not only does Christ share our flesh, but that the spirit of God is shared among us--all of us. In those moments of breaking bread and drinking wine, if we allow ourselves to look at one another, and to see the indwelling divinity we share, we become tapped into that divinity, transcending our own self and space and time while remaining exactly who and where and when we are. There may be something metaphysical about it, I don't know, but I do know that in that moment of being open to my dad, of seeing him as he was dying, I was able to see him as I never had before. The bread and grape juice became something more; we became something more. Ordinary food, ordinary room, ordinary people, sharing an extraordinary experience.

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