Like every good preacher’s kid, I was due a crisis of faith somewhere between my late-teens and early twenties. I would not say that my relationship with Jesus ever faltered but my relationship with his church certainly did. Now, I do not for a second regret or dismiss my Southern Baptist roots. I know my Bible backwards and forwards and can whip up a mean casserole for Wednesday night potluck thanks to this upbringing. But as I grew into a young adulthood, it became more difficult for me to reconcile the Church’s response to what I saw happening around me.
My friend wanted to serve in a leadership role. I said she was capable. Churches around me said she could not serve in that capacity because she is a woman.
Dear friends came out to me. I said they are beautifully and wonderfully made. Churches around me said they are not welcome.
Trayvon Martin was murdered. I said that black lives matter. Churches around me said nothing.
Continuing to show up to church with a smile on my face felt disingenuous. So, for a while, I stopped. Instead of attending Sunday school and singing hymns I knew by heart, I stayed at home and asked myself how the white evangelical church, the same people who helped me fall in love with Jesus, were the same people in whom I did not see Jesus when it came to these issues of social justice. The Jesus I fell in love with would be flipping tables.
My hiatus from church allowed me to find Jesus in places I had rarely thought to look before. Up unto that point, I had primarily encountered Jesus at church. Without a church to attend, I began to see Jesus in the kindness of neighbors knowing my name and asking how my day had been. I began to see Jesus in the joy of children playing tag in the park across from our apartment. I even began to see Jesus in the unconditional love so freely given to me by our dog. Having that time to breathe, reflect, and see Jesus in all things was a holy and refining time for me, for which I am grateful. But as time went on, I yearned for a community with whom I could share these revelations of Jesus.
So here I am. A few years post-faith crisis and I am not only in church, but I am married to someone on staff at a church (in case there was any doubt left that God has a sense of humor). The disenchantment I felt has not completely worn off; I still have my moments. But I have found one practice in particular that grounds me and renews my hope for the Church every week. In a word, communion.
While wrestling with my feelings toward the Church, I found a resonant voice in the wilderness in the form of author, Rachel Held Evans. In her book, Searching For Sunday, she describes the sacrament of communion. I remember having a lightbulb moment when she states that as Jesus breaks bread with his disciples at the Last Supper, he commands them to do this in remembrance of him. Not to receive the bread in remembrance of him, but to do this. Communion requires action on our end.
So what exactly does it look like when we do communion? It looks like meeting your Muslim neighbor for breakfast at Dunkin Donuts. It looks like picnicking on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain with faith leaders from across town. It looks like buying a lemonade from the kids on the corner raising money for their own school supplies. It looks like enjoying a crawfish boil in your friends’ backyard. It looks like engaging in real, authentic conversations about race, privilege, identity and reconciliation around a table with people in your city.
It looks a whole lot more diverse than the church I grew up in and feels less comfortable for me. I’ve found that is a good thing.
I recently heard a sermon preached on a passage that centers on Jesus’ return to a few of his disciples after his resurrection in Luke 24. Initially, he kept his identity hidden from them on the road to Emmaus and simply walked and talked with them as they were travelling. The disciples invited him to stay and share a meal with them. Jesus obliged, and after He said grace, He broke the bread. At this very moment, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him.”
When we partake of communion, we not only remember Jesus, but we also see Jesus in those with whom we share the bread and wine. Our eyes are opened and we recognize Him sitting with us. He was there all along. And you know what? Our Host, Jesus Himself, set the table for everyone, including the very people who drove me away from church in the first place. The little old church lady who scolded my father for allowing a woman to be a deacon? Yep. Jesus has a place setting for her. The pastor’s wife who chided me for being an ally to my gay friends? You bet. Jesus has her wine already poured. The neighbor who voted differently than me and has the lawn sign to prove it? Precisely. Jesus has his seat pulled up to the table right next to mine. When I cannot make sense of the people sitting next to me in the pews, I remember Jesus invites us to the same table with our own baggage and flaws.
My dear, dear Church, I have wrestled and fought to remain with you. We don’t always see eye to eye and more often than not, I am frustrated with you. But at the end of the day, you are good. And I keep coming back because you are worth it. I keep coming back because the table is set and the wine is poured. I am hungry and thirsty and in need of some company. Won’t you join me? We just might find Someone Else among us if you pull up a seat.
Hannah Asters is a daughter, wife, dog mom, and teacher. She grew up in Birmingham, AL, spent a few years in Nashville, TN earning her master’s degree in special education, and now calls New Orleans, LA home. She is an active member at the Vineyard Church of New Orleans where she and her husband lead the young adult small group. Above all, she is a reconciler. You can find Hannah on Instagram at @hannasters.