I might have mentioned, I suppose, in the previous post on Take This Bread, that Sara Miles sees communion as a sacrament, while we Anabaptists see it as an ordinance, a memorial with a strong emphasis on the horizontal relationship implied in community. Either way, all’s well and good, I think; strange how these differences were, at one time in history, so very important, even enough to provoke martyrdom, but seem unimportant now (while we argue about other things).
Which reminds me of a moment in This Hidden Thing. I do hope it won’t seem too indulgent of me to offer one small glimpse…. In this scene the protagonist Maria is elderly (this is decades back) and not so well any more and she’s leaning against her uncle Peter’s “old, spongy sofa,” waiting for him to make coffee, and since she’s brought him some homemade bread, she’s thinking about that, and it’s reminded her of communion they had on Sunday, the “tiny square of bread, the tiny cup” and “the humility that filled the sanctuary, everyone quietly accepting their share…”
The portions were entirely too small for the spiritual hunger and thirst of her old age, she sometimes thought, tastes so brief they were scarcely comprehended, but once inside her mouth they seemed to swell in their indefinable way; then they were enough. Once she’d thought, well, no wonder, it was his body and blood after all. She’d pushed the heretical notion away, remembering that for Mennonites there was nothing literal in those words; symbols didn’t abandon their ordinary substance on account of a presiding minister’s words; that was one of the things the Reformation squabbled over, wasn’t it, and weren’t the Catholics damned, to a soul?
“Well,” she thinks immediately, “I don’t know.”
Maria loved the convenience of “I don’t know,” the prerogative the church had given women: silence, no theological finesse or bold statements required. It made them lazy perhaps, but maybe not. She, at least, felt she could rest in the truth and squalor she’d cobbled together from what she’d heard and read and imagined. She could always say, as Mary must have, sitting at Jesus’ feet, I don’t know, my Lord, what do you mean?….
…But here it was again. Pasty bread: flesh. The onslaught of juice in her mouth: a taste of blood. Hadn’t he said, Eat me, drink me?…. [S]he liked the subversion of believing it, exactly that way….
I’m resonating with Maria here, letting the bread be what it is, whether sacrament or memorial…. (And if it seems odd that I’d resonate with a character I’ve created, instead of the other way around, maybe I’ll have to weigh in on that relationship some time. In another post!)