Breastfeeding & Communion: A Meditation

It is probably safe to say that if we were to compare today's practice of communion to that of the earliest Christians, we would realizes that it is strikingly different. Unlike us, they probably would not have had seats at the front of the sanctuary (they didn't have sanctuaries, they met in homes), there would have been more women involved and there wouldn't have been arguments about who can give communion thoughts or even serve the emblems. There would have been no piano and no organ playing. There would have been all kinds of food, not just a small cracker and some grape juice. When they took the emblems, it was during an all-out meal; comparative to our suppers or dinners. Indeed, we've made communion quite different than it originally was and actually, about things that they probably never would have dreamed of. In many ways, they might be stunned or even upset by what we've done with thier ancient practice.

But let me return to the issue of women for a moment. Throughout history, men have sought to make communion a "man's" thing. We've barred women from serving and speaking; we've prooftexted in order to shut them down. That is wrong; we have sinned with our practices of exclusion. I wonder if some of the impetus for turning communion into something it was never intended to be, a male dominated event, comes from 1 of 2 things: 1) The fact that Jesus was a male, and/or 2) The fact that we focus on males at the last supper?

Perhaps, though, we should focus our attention elsewhere, like on the words of instituion, the words that remind all of Jesus' followers that the loaf and cup are Jesus' body, or at least, representative of His body. It is these emblems, according to Jesus, that feed and sustain us; they are our spiritual food. But let's not stop with the words themselves, let's go deeper into the meaning of them. What does it mean that Jesus' body is our food? Well, it means that His body, in a spiritual sense, when we partake of it, feeds us and sustains us. Now, if we are all honest with ourselves, we have to own up to the fact that not only is this a seemingly mysterious idea but it is odd. Isn't it odd for a man to suggest that His body can feed another person?

Indeed, it is very odd! A man's body cannot provide sustenance for anyone. However, a woman's body can. In fact, I would venture to say that at the heart of Jesus' words, at the heart of communion, lies a feminine metaphor. As a woman breastfeeds her child and sustains it, so Jesus' body sustains and feeds His followers. Men, let that sink in for a moment. Women, you let it sink in too (and don't shy away from it). Could it be that behind Jesus' words of institution is a metaphor based on breastfeeding? Could it be that behind communion is a female-based analogy?

If this is the case, if communion has at it's very core and very roots a feminine base, then how can the Church exclude women from having a major role in it? In fact, it may well be the case that they deserve a more profound role in it. Well, I may be overstating the case on either end because we don't want to make communion about "our" roles; it is about God. However, we do need to be reminded that this is an inclusive event. It is not about men or women alone but about them communing together, with the Triune God.

So, as you partake of the cup and loaf, remember why you're doing it and remember what's at the heart of it: Jesus' desire for you to feed on Him much like a child is sustained by the body of it's mother. May we all, with a commitment to love and equality, partake of this cup in a manner worthy of our God and of one another.

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