The Body of Christ

One more time, one more time / He’s allowed us to come together one more time
One more time, one more time / He’s allowed us to come together one more time

In the middle of our time of prayer, a strong alto voice, probably Pastor Steve’s wife, Vonda, or Sister Charlene, one of the women who sometimes play the old upright piano, starts to sing. The first few words, though soft, are perfectly audible in the small, low-ceilinged sanctuary. Someone starts to clap. Others follow. The sound swells as the various voices of the congregation join in, grateful to be together again this Sunday at Southeast Church of the Nazarene.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me /
I once was lost, but now I’m found. / He’s allowed us to come together one more time

I hear the voices of a brother who is staying at the San Diego Rescue Mission, a sister who is staying at the half-way house, and fellow students from Point Loma Nazarene University—we are brothers and sisters from both sides of the I-8, the great socioeconomic divide in San Diego. We sit in padded stacking chairs, unpretentious and functional, upholstered in coarse red cloth with their metal trim painted a pseudo-bronze color. In the three years that I was attending Southeast, I had never personally seen all the chairs filled, though we came close once or twice. Various hymnals, different editions and all showing different degrees of wear, are scattered across the seats of both the new generation of cushier, darker red chairs and the older, more weathered red chairs that are set up side by side.

One more time, one more time / He’s allowed us to come together one more time  
One more time, one more time / He’s allowed us to come together one more time

We don’t use the hymnals all the time. Of course, if the worship team plans to sing a hymn that week, they distribute the hymnals and announce the number and everyone dutifully turns to the page to follow along. But most of the hymns we sing are spontaneous, often overflowing in the middle of prayer. No one needs the hymnals then. When the words to pray elude us, the songs we sing are prayers in themselves, helping us lay our burdens down personally and communally. Perhaps nothing can adequately express our joys and sorrows like music.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come /
‘Twas grace that brought me safe thus far / He’s allowed us to come together one more time

When I first started attending Southeast, I entered quietly from the street corner in inner-city San Diego through the wooden double doors into the sanctuary, saying hello to the few people I knew and sometimes attempting to make small talk. I picked a seat toward the back and stared at the gently humming ceiling fans, at the small green diamond pattern repeating on the carpet, at the street outside through the bars on the windows twisting into little hearts. I pretended to pour over the church bulletin, a single eight-and-a-half-by-eleven sheet of white paper folded in half and printed off someone’s home computer. Maybe I was too shy to start a conversation with someone new, or maybe I was just unsure how to interact with those in the congregation who were seemingly so different from me. I kept going back, though, and my initial feelings of discomfort were chipped away week by week as I was continually welcomed into this community with warm smiles and handshakes and even hugs until I realized that Southeast had become my home.

Do this in remembrance of Me

Every week I file down the aisle to receive communion alongside people like Jason, a homeless man who holds a cardboard sign on the corner of Rosecrans and Midway; Richard, a bus driver for San Diego MTS and a leader in the church; Jenny, the daughter of immigrants who is now working as a nurse; Point Loma students like Christian, Lauren, Katrin, and Caleb; and the church’s crowd of children. Accepting Christ’s sacrificial love, symbolized in the Eucharist, gives us a new identity and welcomes us into a radical freedom—a freedom to recognize the new identity given to every one of us and a freedom to treat each other differently as brothers and sisters in Christ. Gently holding the elements, we file back to our seats waiting until everyone has been served so we can take them together. I look into their faces. Our diversity is the essence of the body of Christ.

The body of Christ, broken for you; the blood of Christ, poured out for you.

We take and eat. We take and drink. In taking that small cracker and cup of grape juice together, our old identities melt away. Receiving communion, recognizing that God is working in all of us individually and collectively, is part of recognizing each other’s new identity and becoming whole, becoming one. So we sing:

One more time, one more time / He’s allowed us to come together one more time
One more time, one more time / He’s allowed us to come together one more time

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