This is Christ’s body, broken for you…

“Oh I was just a baby when that happened,” she said before stacking my plate and cup onto her own tray to take them to the cafeteria dishwasher.  

These kids are so polite, so confident. Not how I remember junior high. 

We were talking about September 11—a date that for this eighth grader marked history, not memory. For her it was a picture in a textbook, some old video footage. For me it was a clear, cool day that seemed too beautiful to contain the fear and horror caught in my chest. 

“Maybe I should use a different illustration,” I said, second-guessing myself for the hundredth time that day. 

She laughed, patted my arm like the grownup in the situation and said, “You’ve got this. Don’t worry. Just say something funny and everyone will love you.” 

Funny. Got it.  

When the first group of junior high students arrived for the weekend retreat, streaming out of their crammed First United Methodist Church buses like ants out of a disturbed bed, I marveled at their young faces. These were just kids, former babies whose September 11, 2001 included a naptime. 

I’d spent the week before reworking all my usual talks for a younger audience, whittling them down to their essence, working in more stories and updating my illustrations, taking out any references to menstruation. When I asked Dan for advice, he made a crack about Gangnam Style…which I had to google. 

“Oh man, I’m screwed,” I said, dropping my head to the dining room table as an Asian man danced on my computer screen. “I don’t even know if this is supposed to be ironic or cool! These kids are going to hate me.” 

I worried, and reworked, and stayed up late arranging PowerPoints. I solicited advice on Facebook, which included several gentle reminders not to try too hard with the whole relevance thing; they can see through that. 

Don’t try too hard. Got it. 

Despite all my preparation, I felt panicked when I took the stage after the band finished the first night, steams of vapor from the fog machine still clinging to the set, 500 young faces looking eagerly back at me.  I’d gotten up at 4 a.m. that morning to catch my flight and had consumed about five cups of coffee since then. The week before I’d been interviewed by Barabara-freaking-Walters in New York City. No problem. But 500 junior high students? I might just pee in my pants. 

I felt inadequate for the task. I wanted to do right by these kids. I wanted them to know how much they were loved—by God, by their church, by me. The Methodists, I was sure, had chosen the wrong speaker. And only a few parents had had the good sense to call and warn them ahead of time.

Fortunately, I’d planned a fun audience-participation-style game as an opener, complete with a Gangnam Style reference, which the students loved. They were laughing, hard. Maybe this would work out after all. 

I muddled through four presentations that weekend, and four more a few weekends later when 600  high schoolers attended the same event. It wasn’t my best work, I knew that, but the kids really seemed to connect with it, and I got good feedback from the youth pastors. 

“You’re so real!” one 14-year-old girl marveled. “Like one of us!” 

Real. Got it. 

The climax of each weekend happened on Saturday night with a communion service following my presentation. A pastor led the service, but I had the privilege of joining some of the student leaders in serving the bread and juice. 

And this is when everything changed. 

I held a loaf of bread in my hands, tearing off a piece for each pair of cupped hands that went by, slowly, as music played. 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

I said it over and over and over again. More than a hundred times. 

And each time, I peered into the face of the one receiving the gift: a lanky boy with pimples and bangs avoiding my gaze; a pretty girl, no more than 13, tears brimming in eager, thankful eyes; a guy wearing his Bama cap because he heard I was a fan, whispering “Roll Tide” as he dipped his bread in the cup; adults receiving with a grateful familiarity, mouthing “thanks be to God” and folding their hands in prayer.  

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

The music swelled, and I was surprised by how many of these kids looked me square in the eyes, approaching the Table with vulnerability and openness, souls laid bare. In their faces I saw relief, joy, sadness, distraction, eagerness, shyness, familiarity, boredom, peace, fear, and hope…so much hope. I saw broken families and fights with friends and doubts about God and insecurities about the van ride home. I saw that longing to start over again, the longing to be known. 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

There were boyish grins and tear-streaked cheeks and freckled faces and wrinkled laugh lines. 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

There were flashes of white teeth against brown skin, stifled giggles, runny noses, tattered t-shirts, designer shoes. 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

There were babies on hips, bandaids on fingers, and braces on teeth. There were slumped shoulders, awkward limps, the smell of sweat, the sound of sighs. 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” 

I said it over and over and over again until I believed it. I said it until I knew in a way I hadn’t before that it wasn’t my job to do right by these kids; it wasn’t about me at all. I could only proclaim the great mystery—that Christ had done right by them, his body broken for them, his blood shed for them.  This was enough. I could not explain why or how, but it was enough. 

Christ's body. Christ's blood. Got it.

I see now why it is important for our pastors and priests to serve communion. 

It’s important because it steals the show.

It’s important because it is enough, all on its own. 

After the second communion service with the high school students, a bunch of us celebrated with a light show and dance party, because that’s how the Methodists roll. I broke out my truly horrid dance moves to the cheers of the students, wholly unconcerned for once in my life about my coolness factor. Somewhere in between the choruses of “Call Me Maybe” I realized just how much I needed these kids…and here I’d been thinking they needed me. Communion has a way of flattening things out like that, a way of entangling our roots and lowering our guards. 

Perhaps every Lord’s Supper should conclude with a dance party. 

[Special thanks to the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church for inviting me to hang out at Ealge Eyrie in Lynchburg this year! ]

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