(Note: Not for the squeamish, this one.)
In 2006, Germany played host to the particularly strange and morbid case of Armin Meiwes, a 42-year-old computer technician who had suffered an unhappy childhood with a cruel father and a domineering mother. A gawky, angular man with an Eastwood squint and robust dimples, Meiwes waited until both of his parents had departed this world for the next before posting a message on a website expressing that he was “looking for a well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed.”
It is a point of fascination that Meiwes found his volunteer, a particularly disturbed and stout-hearted individual whose name has never been revealed. The two met at Meiwes’ house (in a room he had dubbed “The Slaughter Room” and designed for this very purpose) and commenced to lobbing off chunks of the volunteer’s person. The man lay bleeding in the bathtub while Meiwes sauteed his flesh with salt, pepper, wine and garlic, and read a Star Trek novel. Meiwes then came to the bathroom, chatted with the man for a bit and, once it was obvious he would not survive much longer, split his throat and hung him from a meathook in a freezer, from where he tore off, cooked and ate 44 pounds of him over the next 10 months.
An web surfer alerted authorities to Meiwes after stumbling across the original posting (one shudders to think what grim business led the tattler to that message.) Authorities took Meiwes to jail, and the press went berserk. What sort of monster was this man, who fit the bill of our favorite serial killers so readily? Quiet. Polite. Well-adjusted, even. An easy smile. They dubbed him Der Metzgermeiste—”The Master Butcher.”
* * *
A common and damning critique of ancient Roman Christians was that they cannibalized each other in memory of Jesus.
It was, likely, an altogether easy misunderstanding of the Eucharist, the institution of which was Jesus’ final act before his crucifixion. Him and the twelve disciples, reclining around a table during one of the Jews’ most solemn holidays, following the same ceremony each of them had performed every year since they were boys. But this time, Jesus is putting a new spin on things. “This is my body,” he says, rending the bread to pieces over candlelight before the disciples’ befuddled eyes, “broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And in the same way, he spilt the wine out of its chalice and into the cup. “This wine is the New Covenant of my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And did he shake then, Jesus, pouring the wine from the chalice, spilling it on the table, seeing it flow so freely from such fragile vessels? Did he splash some of the cup in passing it to Judas, whose own pockets were burning with the knowledge of his impending errand?
* * *
Prosecutors painted Meiwes as without empathy—a remorseless killer with a mutated brain and an empty soul, incapable of human emotion. It’s an old trope for serial killers, but interviews with Meiwes indicated otherwise. He seemed, if not emotionally distraught, than at least objectively aware that his passions had gotten a little out of hand. Meiwes had grown up lonesome, hated by his father, smothered by his mother and dismissed by his peers. To deal with his isolated hell, he had invented “Franky,” an imaginary little brother, whom he loved deeply and was certainly his most reliable friend. Everyone else left, everyone else let him go, said good-bye, moved on, taunted him and ignored him. But Franky was at Meiwes’ beck. Franky was Meiwes’ confidant, dearest friend and blood relative. He was Meiwes’ truest friend, and when Meiwes created the online profile that hosted his dark deed three decades later, he did so under the name “Franky.”
Nobody could take Franky away, of course, but Meiwes began to fantasize about just how to ensure that Franky stayed. How does one guarantee eternity with someone else? How does you create a bond that cannot be broken? And, in his young mind, Meiwes decided to eat Franky. Whatever you ate became a part of you, and was with you forever. Even until the end of the age.
And Franky, who loved Meiwes without question, didn’t mind in the least.
* * *
This morning in church, I stood in line of a solemn procession to the front of the sanctuary to take and eat the body and the blood of Christ.
We’re a motley crew, we Evangelicals. There are many types of churches, but my Sunday mornings of late are a meeting spot for the unshowered and hungover, the deep-in-debt and the baristas, those who wish they were doing better and those who seem to think going to church is about as good as they are going to get. I like the place for its humility. And we march to the front of the church to eat our bit of bread and our splash of wine in clubfoot, flip-flopped tandem, each wondering if anyone else knows what’s going on, each with the sense that this ought to matter.
I grew up Evangelical. The obsession with singing about blood was given to me too young to ever strike me as odd. Phrases like “Jesus’ blood never failed me” and lines about being “washed in the blood,” are part of my life. So I do not flinch when the pastor looks me in the eye and says, “the blood of Christ, given for you.” And when I eat the bread, it does not occur to me that I am linking arms with a tradition that stretches back millennia to Roman cries of wanton cannibalism. Or dates back even further even, to Jesus pointing at his rent loaf of bread, insisting to a group of bewildered disciples that, “this is my body.” And passing it around to be consumed.
None of that occurs to me. I just take and eat.
And Jesus, who loves me without question, doesn’t mind in the least.