Yesterday I sat in a beautiful, air conditioned, comfortable room with hundreds of others for the purpose of worshipping our God.
As worship progressed, time came for communion, when we eat of unleavened bread and drink fruit of the vine: matzo and grape juice. After a recent conversation with my mom, I’ve made a concerted effort to focus myself on this time, and it’s been so interesting. Last week, as I noted on the book of Faces, an image of the cross stole my thoughts. A few weeks ago, both cracker and juice tasted uncommonly sweet. Yesterday, I had a unique experience (well, unique to me anyway).
The golden plate passed from my husband to me. I lifted one corner. It did not snap right away. Trying to ensure crackers did not fly all over the place, I pushed harder. It broke and I quickly ferreted the bit of matzo into my mouth, hoping to delay the passing tray no more.
Bitterness. Burnt flour. Astringence. Though the bite was small, the flavor dispersed throughout my mouth. I tried to swallow. Song arose around me. A piece, a rather large piece, stuck in my tooth.
My tongue pushed across the jagged tooth. I sucked. I pushed. I sucked. I did everything short of sticking my finger in my mouth to dig it out.
I tried ignoring it. I began to sing but the song ended. Thanks was given for the juice and it began to pass.
The juice. Who knows what it actually tasted like? I didn’t. My mouth remained overwhelmed by the burnt cracker. The juice in my mouth only layered a cloying fragrance over burned ash. Still, the bit of cracker stuck.
I wonder how the meal tasted to my Lord when he ate it the night he was betrayed. Was any piece burned? Did he taste strangely sweet bread or acrid meal? Did it stick at all in his teeth? Did he run his tongue over rough teeth to loosen the bread? Did the juice/wine change the flavor? Did it enhance the bread or feel sickly sweet?
Every meal is not the same. Communion seems largely cookie cutter across congregations. Many of the same thoughts are shared. Many of the same prayers are said. Many of the same golden plates or wicker plates are passed. Many of the crackers look exactly the same. Many of the cups cannot be distinguished, even after a drink has been taken.
But every meal is not the same. However the bread and juice/wine tasted to Jesus on that night we remember, it was not the same meal as he had eaten for so many years with his family and his friends. This meal was different. Markedly so.
He had things to say. He had heaviness upon his heart. Did his mouth run dry? Was it difficult to swallow? Did he hope that by saying the things he did he might change the hearts or minds of the others? Did he know it was futile but necessary? This was a different meal.
I have been repulsed by the sight of an ugly cross. I have felt close to my God and my Savior. I have marveled at the uncommon sweetness of the meal. I have been distracted. The meal is always different. But this meal, yesterday, was different still.
This meal held me in a moment and would not let me go. This meal brought my whole focus to it. It hurt my tongue. It would not pass. This meal held the promise of something good and the reality of something awful. This meal was a meal with my Lord.
In my own (extremely slight) discomfort, I saw Christ in new dimensions. In my own (admittedly small) distaste, I transported to the most distasteful moments of his existence. He was stuck, like that bit of burnt bread, and he could have gotten out of it, like I could have dug out that bread. He could have but he didn’t. He could have been rid of the foul events about to happen. But he took it. He took the humiliation. He took the wrongful conviction. He took the beating and pain. He took the cross. He took the nails. He took the vinegar. He took his last breath.
He ate with his friends. He tried to help them prepare. He prayed it would all pass if any other way could be. He entrusted his mother to his friend. He fulfilled it all. And then he departed.
None of this is new. Not to me. Maybe not to you. My mind’s eye can only extend so far to his suffering. I cannot see him hanging in place. I cannot fit my fingers into his nail piercings. I cannot smell the blood, the sweat, the heat of the day. I cannot hear him crying out.
But yesterday I tasted for the briefest of moments the bitterness of his last moments. And it changed me in ways I cannot describe.