Today is Corpus Christi, the day the Church gives thanks for the institution of Holy Communion. That institution took place on the day we call Maundy Thursday, on the night of Jesus’ arrest, illegal trial by night, hours before his murder. We mark that too, but as a sombre occasion. This day, Corpus Christi, is a celebration of the gift, of the benefits of this tangible expression of an intangible reality, Jesus with us, nourishing is with his presence.
As a faith tradition, we remember by enacting. Our memory, our belonging, our identity is embodied. Our being drawn into the body of Christ is embodied. As a faith community, the local congregation of which I am a part enacts Holy Communion every Thursday and Sunday. But this year, we have been unable to enact Holy Communion, on Maundy Thursday or Corpus Christi, or any of the days since we went into lockdown. So, what does that do to our remembering? What impact does it have on our memory, our belonging, our identity?
For most of my life, I have been a writer. From perhaps the age of four, I wrote, first with a pencil and then with a pen, until the age of eighteen. A pencil and a pen are not the same, exactly, for it is easier to erase what you write with a pencil; but they both involve the physical shaping of characters with a tool.
From the age of eighteen, my writing experienced a shift to a keyboard. The muscle-memory of writing started to be over-written. As it happens, I have dyspraxia, a spatial and memory impairment, and one that has impacted me more as I have grown older. I have never been able to keep hold of the layout of a keyboard. I go looking for every letter every time.
More recently, my writing has experienced another shift. Now, most of my writing is done on a virtual keyboard. Now I write with my two thumbs, rather than the index and middle fingers of my right hand. Now, the gap between locating the letters is shorter, though I still have to locate them.
I am a writer, and yet I have forgotten the art of using a pen. That is to say, I can still make marks on a page—indeed, I do so as a deliberate, intentional discipline, keeping a paper journal of my days—but they are scrawls. As a lover of words, and a lover of letters, as a lover of crafting these things and of the physicality of paper over a screen, these inky scratchings rarely give me pleasure.
When we gather together in a church building and share in a common liturgy that draws us once again to Jesus, standing around the Lord’s table or kneeling before it side by side at the rail; when I take bread in my hand and press it down onto the outstretched hand of another member of the body of Christ; this is a precious thing.
But it is far from what Jesus did. As fundamentally connected, and as fundamentally removed, as writing this on my smartphone is from writing it with a pen. We have lost the embodiment of a meal eaten together, watered it down to elements of wafer and wine, followed by a chocolate-coated biscuit and a cup of tea.
At this moment in time, we cannot meet together to participate in Holy Communion as we have been familiar. But we still need to eat and drink. And in so doing, we may remember or forget Jesus.
It isn’t the same, and I’m not dismissing the practices of my church tradition that have evolved over time. But here is an opportunity to pick up something that has been lost long before novel coronavirus, rather than wring our hands at something that has been suspended because of it.
So, eat and drink boldly, with thanksgiving. A broken blessing, and a blessed breaking.