When I was a little girl, I spent most of my time with my best friend, Rhonda, who lived down the street from me. Rhonda and I often spent Saturday nights at each other’s houses, and attended church with each other’s families on Sunday mornings. Rhonda was Catholic, and I remember being fascinated with the Sunday service at the Catholic church she attended, and intrigued by the ways the Catholic mass differed from the Sunday morning service at the church I attended with my parents. I have a distinct memory of communion at Rhonda’s church – the priest would stand at the front of the church, and the parishioners would line up and approach him to take part in communion. There was a special provision for those in attendance who, like me, were either not Catholic or were too young to take communion. We would approach the priest with our arms crossed over our chest to receive what was called the “bread blessing” – a special blessing from the priest. This was my favorite part of the Catholic church service. I would stand in line with Rhonda and her family, and as we approached the priest, I would hear him tell each approaching parishioner, “This is the Body of Christ” as he handed them the thin, round, communion wafer. I would hear the priest make that statement several times before I arrived at the front of the line, and by the time I met the priest face to face, those words were cemented into my mind – “This is the Body of Christ.”
Although the Catholic mass differed from the church services I attended regularly on Sundays with my parents, there were many commonalities between the two as well. Communion was also a weekly occurrence at our church, although it looked slightly different. The pastor would stand at the front of the church and would read the Scripture passages from the Last Supper. Before serving communion to the congregation, he would read the passage from the Bible that says, “This is my Body, broken for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of Me.”
I did not come to know Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior until I was in college, and if I am honest with myself, I have to say that most of the hours spent in church as a child were spent daydreaming, intermittently napping, or flirting with some cute boy in the youth group. But as I have come to understand that God began working on my heart long before I knew He was doing so, I believe that there is a reason that these elements of my childhood church experience are so deeply etched into my mind.
Over the past year, I have gotten a new glimpse into what I believe the Body of Christ is intended to be. About 9 months ago, I went through a very difficult time, which although short-lived, managed to totally turn my world upside down. In a very short time, relatively speaking, I went from being an upbeat, funny, energetic, focused person, who counsels other people for a living, to being in a very dark place. A place where I did not have the energy or concentration to complete basic, daily tasks. A place where I was not able to heal my own mind, let alone be a part of the healing of another’s. A place where the independence, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance that I take such pride in (and I mean the word “pride” in its most ungodly and destructive way) evaporated before I even knew it was happening. A place where my identity was stripped away, and I was left with nothing but a sense of overwhelming fear and hopelessness that threatened to consume me.
Despite the darkness that had taken up residence in my mind and heart, God kept His promise to me when He said “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And indeed He did not. Instead, He strategically placed people in my life who were the very hands and feet and arms and legs and mouth and heart of His Body. And as God in His infinite mercy has been teaching me what His love truly looks like, I have often heard the words of the Catholic priest and the pastor at my childhood church over and over again:
When I would have nothing to offer my friends, and they would respond with, “It’s okay. Your worth is not determined by what you can do, but rather by who you are in Christ” – THIS is the Body of Christ.
When I was not funny, upbeat, or energetic, and felt that I was simultaneously letting down everybody in my life, and my church family would gently remind me that my identity is not found in my personality, ability to make people laugh, or any other characteristic that I might possess on my own, but in Jesus’s perfect love for me – THIS is the Body of Christ.
When my friends would call and say, “It’s going to snow, and you don’t have any groceries – I’m going to pick some up for you at the store” or “I want to spend time with you whether you’re ‘yourself’ right now or not” or “Just hang out on my couch, even if you don’t want to talk, because you will be fighting the tendency to isolate” – THIS is the Body of Christ.
When those same friends would continue to call and check on me, even when I wasn’t doing a very good job of returning phone calls, even when I would have nothing to give, and all I could do was apologize over and over for the abysmal job of friendship I was doing; when those friends responded by placing no expectations on my being able to “hold up my end of the friendship” at that time, and instead responded simply with, “I love you” – THIS is the Body of Christ.
And finally, when my friends in Christ would have the courage to be with me in my brokenness, while continuing to point me to the One who is the Source of all hope and light, walking with me, not giving up on me, and consistently reminding me that the pain is not forever and that He who began a good work in me will complete it – THIS is the Body of Christ.
To my friends who continue to walk with me, patiently holding my hand as I come to the end of myself and learn to turn my eyes to the One who brings true healing – thank you for carrying out the words of Jesus (and of my childhood pastor) – “This is my Body, broken for you – do this in remembrance of Me.”