I sometimes find it hard to identify as a christian. Not because I’m in any way ashamed or unsure of whether I agree with the message of Jesus, but because it seems like Christianity can be used to describe any set of beliefs. Of the millions of people around the world that call themselves Christian, so many believe and live very different things to what I do. When I tell people I’m a Christian, it could mean anything to them. It seems like Christianity is kind of a meaningless term.
So it was nice in Alice Springs to be reminded why I decided (and still think) that the message of Jesus was something worth giving my life to. The setting was a little catholic church, and there was a pretty wide range of cultures present – a Korean priest, Indian nuns from the Sisters of Mercy, a mostly aboriginal congregation with a few older whitefellas, and a handful of scruffy young travellers who had driven a van to Alice from Brisbane.
This diversity is what made communion so memorable. The act of eating bread (or wafers) and wine (or grape juice) in church can so often be just an empty ritual, but sharing a cup and plate with such a wide range of people is a reminder of what it means to be in communion – to be a group of people bound together in the belief that all class, race and gender divisions are obsolete (that’s Galatians 3:28 if you want to look it up). A group of people who don’t all believe exactly the same things, but have committed to working towards the goal that is a life lived in the image of Jesus. But it is so much more than that. Because communion is not merely about food and drink.
According to Paul (1 Corinthians 11:26), when we take communion we are proclaiming Jesus’ death until he returns – we are breaking our bodies and shedding our blood for others because the message of Jesus is that we only discover life when we stop living for ourselves (Matthew 16:24-26). Because we believe in a God who, rather than being disconnected from human suffering, lived in the muck and mire of our brokenness; choosing to hang out with the most marginalised people; who died the agonising and humiliating death of a criminal, rejected by society. This is the amazing thing about Christianity. This is the incredible thing we call incarnation, and when we take communion we are declaring it to the world.
Which was why this communion, in this little church in Alice Springs, was so special to me. Paul also says in the same passage that everyone when they take communion should examine themselves, and that’s so much easier to do when some of the world’s most marginalised people are in the room with you. Taking communion doesn’t just mean I’m sharing a meal with aboriginal people, it means I am making their poverty my poverty, their addictions my addictions, their battles against government policy and corporate interests my battles. Jesus himself (Matthew 25:35) identifies God with the poor, the sick and the imprisoned. And is there a people group in the world that better fits these descriptions than aboriginals?
The contrast was pretty apparent when we straight afterwards went to the markets in the mall. You could go to those markets and not know there were aboriginal people in Alice Springs. It was bizarre seeing tourists browsing through authentic aboriginal art, while authentic aboriginals were conspicuously absent. The thought of buying souveneirs and eating a cafe lunch in the middle of so much poverty made me a little bit uncomfortable.
This is why despite everything I’m still proud to call myself a Christian. Because the incarnation of Jesus, and his message of a kingdom where power and wealth are rejected for love and service; where the weak and broken are lifted up; is still completely radical and counter-cultural. In a world so broken and so unjust; and I include in this the trouble I have in my own life trying to live out this kingdom; the message of Jesus gives me hope.