It’s a cheery Sunday morning when my one good eye pops open and I begin Sunday chores, which generally involves whatever is left over of my Saturday chores. Of course, church service is imminent so there are things that need doing. Coffee needs brewing, sound needs checking, candles need lighting. All to make the idea of church more appealing to the faithful. I was in Japan once, and scaled 1,000 steps to get to a Shinto house of worship. A monk told me the steps were there to deter the casual believer.
When the pastor shows, family and all, he surveys my work. “Communion?” he asks, and I turn in dismay to the bare, lonesome looking table at the front of the church. I haven’t set communion and, what’s worse, we’re out of crackers and grape juice. Walgreen’s is a ten minute walk, and off I go.
(Two Parenthetical Points of Clarification)
- My one good eye – The night before, I allowed Shorty G, to take me on a shortcut from Wrigley Field back to my home at Safe Haven. Taylor, a runaway tomboy tagged along with us. Why Shorty G liked me, I don’t know. He was something of an important figure in Chicago’s drug trade, I knew that much, but he left me out of the details and that was the way I liked it. Taylor, his sidekick, could throw faster, spit further, drink harder and cuss meaner than any of the guys. They made for a pretty tough couple, and I was the odd one out. They did their best to keep things Christian, and I did my best to keep it real. However, when our shortcut led to a locked gate, both of our facades fell away. Shorty G didn’t seem very Christian when he yanked at the gate until the lock split off and the iron bars burst open, and I didn’t seem very gangster when the bars hit me in the face, split my eyebrow in half, and sent me face down into the street, spewing blood and causing Shorty G to go uncharacteristically bonkers over my well-being. He had to carry me inside, and sat by my side most of the night. “You might have a concussion,” he explained, shaking me awake. “If something happened, I’d never forgive myself.”
- Crackers and grape juice – I don’t like it anymore than you do, but the evangelical tradition has adopted an annotated version of the Eucharist of late, substituting saltines and Welch’s for the body and the blood. The overall effect seems to be a distinctly American take the Sacrament. The Lord’s Snack, as it were.
At any rate, this is how I found myself jogging to Walgreen’s, one eye swollen shut, hoping for a bargain on crackers and grape juice. It’s a pleasant enough walk when it’s warm, and Sunday morning walks are always welcome, the rest of the world busying themselves about enjoying the week’s most inviting morning. Skipping church is its own reward.
At Walgreen’s, I grab the first box of crackers I see and run up and down aisles, looking for grape juice. It’s not by the orange juice. It’s not with the soda. Nothing in the refrigerators. Church is starting soon. Where in the world? I’ll still have to fill thirty little cups when I get back – a process that usually involves spilling half the carton and leaving the kitchen looking like the aftermath of some ecclesiastic violence. Where is the grape juice?
Finally, I turn a corner and see them. How did I miss them? Big jugs with white labels and freckle-faced youngsters smacking their lips across the packaging. I start checking prices and then, turn the containers to check ingredients. What would Jesus drink? The question takes on gravity in this scenario, as we’re doing this per his request, taking a stab at paying the back the Divine Favor. Here, all he asked on the night of his death was that we eat a little and drink a little now and again, and remember him as we do. He didn’t give specifications, but concentrate just seems wrong, as does something slyly dubbed: “actual grape flavor!” But, on a budget like this, can I afford the 100% natural juice? If it’s for Jesus?
The cranberry grape is all natural and on sale, but does one mix cranberries into the communion wine? Is that point moot, since we’ve foregone wine and all anyway? Am I thinking too much? Is my quest to fuse the sacred and the mundane bordering on psychosis, seeing as I’ve been staring at grape/cranberry juices for the past five minutes? As long as the stuff looks like blood, are we close enough? Should I have brought someone else along who can shake my shoulders and say, “It’s just communion?”
I come to my senses and realize that I am crying out of my good eye. It was the first time it ever occurred to me how poorly the job suited me.
I grab the natural stuff and shuffle to the front of the line, one eye bruised and one eye red and angry-looking. There’s a line of people in front of me, an old man with a pack of razors, a cute girl my age with a bag of cookies and a gallon of milk. And me, my crackers and grape juice: the body and blood of Christ (actual? symbolic? does it matter?) the line trickles through and I get to the front, where a big woman with braids takes it all from me, the body and the blood of our Lord, and runs them under a scanner.
“Find everything alright?”