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Symbolism for the Body

It’s been a long time coming, but this month Noel and I have finally been offered wine for communion at our own church. It is amazing — even unsettling — how quickly our bodies and minds rewire expectations. After two years of tipping back little cups of Welch’s finest every Sunday, I had grown to associate the solemn words, “Christ’s blood, for you,” with an easy shot of sugary, watery juice-from-concentrate.

When I took wine, I shivered a little. Rather than being a sweet, comforting splash, the wine stung. The initial sharpness and developing complexity jolted me. I can forget the grape juice almost immediately after I drink it. I cannot do that with the wine. The wine lingers. It traces a line of acid down my throat; its tannins linger in the back of my mouth. My body cannot forget it quickly, and so my mind and my spirit are prompted to consider longer and more carefully the gravity of what I have just done.

Isn’t this what Christ sacrifice is? Mingling a sting with layered richness, the wine speaks to the bitterness and the glory, the already and the not yet, that I claim when I take this sacrament.

When we begin to separate the physical reprecussions of the symbol from its spiritual meaning, we begin to veer towards an unhelpful — an incorrect — dualism of spirit and fbody. But God became flesh to save us. He gives us sacraments to call to our flesh, to offer us truth incarnate in touchable, tastable, visible forms. When I take the wine, I relish the symbolism that serves my soul through my body.

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