My most significant Christmas present came from my whole family: sessions with a personal trainer. Since the first of the year, I’ve been seeing Chad (or as I like to call him, “Hanging Chad”) and he has been kicking my butt. The sessions are paying off because I have significantly less butt to kick. One of the things I’ve noticed is he pushes me to the point of muscle fatigue, as he calls it, when I’m doing sets on whatever machine the gym imported from Guantánamo Bay. Today I asked him why he pushed so hard.
“When your muscles reach fatigue, they begin to grow,” he said. “If you come in here and do the same routine, even if you increase the weights, your body figures out what you’re doing to it and adapts. You won’t get the results you want. When you push your muscles to fatigue, you shock your body – catch it by surprise – and your muscles think, ‘Man, we’ve got to get with it to keep up with this stuff’ and they grow.”
On the drive home, my mind went back to the sleeping disciples:
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
The boys had hit the wall, much like I do in the middle of the second set of most any exercise Chad puts me through, and had fallen victim to faithfulness fatigue. Things were not staying the same and they were exhausted from trying to keep up with what was going on, not to mention to grief and uncertainty. One betrayed Jesus, hoping (I think) he would force Jesus to play his cards and finally become the kind of butt-kicking king the people were looking for. One got up from his nap and followed Jesus into Caiaphas’ courtyard only to deny even knowing Jesus three times. They all ran away after the crucifixion, hiding out in the Upper Room, or going back to their boats, to the same safe routine they had known before they got to know Jesus. All that trusting and believing had worn them out.
It had also prepared them to grow.
We shared Communion tonight as a part of our Maundy Thursday service. Communion is my favorite act of worship. Taking Communion by intinction (take the bread, dip it in the cup, take both elements at once – more casually, rip and dip) is my least favorite way of observing the sacrament. I love passing the trays down the aisle, being served by one person (“the priest at my elbow,” as Carlyle Marney said) and then getting to serve the next. I also love going to the altar and being served, as they do in Episcopal masses. In both cases, I feel like we expand the holy moment in the meal, taking our time to eat, to pray, and to be together. Intinction, for me, feels more pragmatic (my value judgment), as though we are working to get everyone fed and get on with things. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not my style, it’s not my preference. When I sat down in the pew and saw the elements prepared for us to take and dip, I was called to exercise an unused muscle. I don’t know it’s name, but it’s the one I use when I have to come to terms with the reality that whatever is going on is not ultimately about me.
The last three times we’ve had Communion at our church it has been by intinction. I’m suffering from form fatigue. As I prepared for worship tonight, my exercise was to move from being bothered about the method of sharing the Bread and the Cup to relishing the fact that we had gathered to share the Lord’s Supper on the very night he had first served it to his disciples. Knowing the nature of Middle Eastern food, chances are there was a fair amount of ripping and dipping around that table. None of the methods of serving we employ exactly mimics what Jesus did around that table. What matters is the meal.
Maundy Thursday is one of my favorite worship services all year. And so I stretched beyond my preferences and critiques and stepped into the line of hungry believers moving forward to take and eat, symbolic in its own right of how we join the Communion of all the saints when we take and eat as all those who have come before us have done and all those who will come after us will also do. By the time we got to the part of the service for us to move forward, we had been sitting for a while. When I began to stand up, my thighs started to scream, still sore from Chad’s work on Tuesday. I had to stifle my groan and move as silently as I could to the front where I took the bread and dipped it in the cup and was nourished in Jesus’ name.
Truly, I’ve got to keep up with this stuff and grow.
Having been raised Southern Baptist, where we celebrated the Lord’s appetizer with a shot glass and fingernail-sized cracker, I now prefer intinction. Then again, I make communion sets, plates and goblets, for the meal. During a recent workshop held in our church on the topic of “Welcoming God and Other Strangers,” we ripped and dipped, and served each other (the priest at my elbow), in a loose circle, down by the “do this in remembrance of me” table. God showed up.
Thanks for the reminder that it’s not about us. I had similar thoughts at our service last night – and needed to be reminded that even if it’s not like I want it to be done, we are sharing communion and our lives together, as Christ did with his disciples.
Have a blessed Easter.
I really like the muscle fatigue/growth analogy. I’ll try to keep it in mind during the mass marathon of Easter services.