One morning in August, I realized, with great pleasure, that I could lift and carry a glass of orange juice from point A to point B with my right hand. For someone who lives an ordinary, able-bodied life, that’s no big deal, right? But for me, it was huge. I had never been able to do that before. My physiotherapist was almost as amazed as I.
I don’t live an ordinary life; I live a hybrid life. I’m a 30-year-old Prince Edward Islander with cerebral palsy. I’m also a poet and theologian of disability. I know the indignity of living in an inaccessible world of concrete and glass, but I also know the joy of living in relationship with people through songs, meals, board games and dancing (yes, I can dance).
The Eucharist helps me to navigate my double life. The bread and wine redress my bodily shame and give me the joy of the Lord. In our worshipping communities, we share Jesus’ body and blood. We all participate in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
Three words encapsulate the power of the Eucharist to change my body and mind into a vessel for Jesus’ redemptive grace: vulnerability, availability, and solidarity.
For me, Eucharistic vulnerability means receiving my life from God and giving it back to God. In the broken bread, I know my body’s fragility: I recall the reduced circulation in my right arm and my usually inert right foot. In the wine, I remember Jesus’ assumption of human weakness and pain. I also know God’s love through the touch of a friend who offers me the elements. I feel the Messiah’s risen life whenever I hug my friends, whenever I can cook potato soup, or whenever I perform my 20th chin-up. God’s infinite power animates my right hand and gives me inexpressible strength. The Eucharist reminds me both of my own bodily contingency and of God’s miraculous grace.
Availability is vulnerability’s flip-side. Because Christ offers himself to me through the Eucharist, he asks that I offer myself to others in the same way. As U2’s singer Bono says in another context, “We get to carry each other.” The Eucharist reminds us of our mutual frailty. The broken bread and poured-out wine embody Christ’s demand that we share our intermingled strengths and weaknesses with each other. I can listen to a friend’s stories of addiction. I can offer a stranger food or drink as hospitality. I can applaud when someone sings a beautiful song. God’s mercy is his gift of himself; God’s mission is our gift to each other.
Solidarity is the outworking of Eucharistic vulnerability and availability. Just as Christ assumes our weaknesses and declares that we must live for each other, God also demands that we share God with those who are not present in the gathering. We who break the bread and pour the wine can recall, through Christ’s love, our brothers and sisters who suffer in First Nations communities devastated by oil and mining companies, in the razed towns and cities of Syria and Gaza, and in parts of Africa under Ebola quarantine. Just as Christ suffered and died for me, and for everyone around the altar, he gave his life for all those who cannot be present with us. Through the Eucharist, God commands that we turn our vulnerability outwards, and become part of his desire and plan to bless the world. In the Eucharist, we give God thanks; we become one with the God who loves us and with other people.
This is how the Eucharist transforms my life. To quote the Red Hot Chili Peppers, my life is “more than ordinary.” Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Mike Walker is a member of the Jeremiah Community in Toronto.