The Embarrassment of Christianity, Part 1

1. Holy(?) Communion

One Sunday I was watching a church service on TV with my family. We don’t usually do this, but there were a lot of firsts this year, to say the least.  Anyways, they were going to do communion after the service, so my seven-year-old daughter, who apparently loves communion, ran into the kitchen, got a slice of white bread and a small cup of apple juice, because “we didn’t have any grape juice.” #okbaptist. She and her brother tore the bread into pieces and began to take Communion by intinction (dipping the bread in the juice). I joined them as reverently as possible, in my pajamas.

Then, my kids kept going. They kept taking of the elements. Tear, dip, eat. Tear, dip, eat. They gushed over how delicious it was, like they were hosts on The Food Network eating tapas at a Michelin Star restaurant. When they finished off the bread, my daughter went back to the kitchen and got more, and they resumed. After two pieces of bread-dipped-in-apple-juice each, I made them stop.

If you’ve ever taken Communion in a church, any church, you know this is NOT how it works! You get a tiny piece of bread (or that weird wafer thing) and a sip of wine – or grape juice.

But just stop and think for one second, consider the meaning behind Holy Communion, and maybe we can learn something from how my kids were being.

2. The First Communion

The Last Supper was a supper, not a food and wine tasting. It’s highly unlikely that everyone ate one tiny piece of bread dipped in a few milliliters of wine. I’d guess everyone ate a meal’s worth of food. From my readings of the event, reported in each of the Gospels, I imagine that there was only one, maybe two people who didn’t eat a normal portion. Maybe Jesus picked at his food, having a lot of his mind. But Luke reports that Jesus said to the disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15 NIV) In my experience, an eager person eats much.

Conversely, Judas sat there already guilty, having already agreed to betray his Lord. He was probably a little antsy, anxious. Almost surely, Judas mainly pushed his food around his plate. (When the disciples ask Jesus who would betray Him, Jesus answered, “That is the one for whom I shall dip the morsel and give it to him.” So when He had dipped the morsel, He took and gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. (John 13:26 NASB).

Revisit that verse again: Judas ate a ‘morsel’ of bread dipped in wine at the first communion. What did everyone else eat? … …

I think Jesus ate well. I think Judas felt a little embarrassed for Him because, perhaps, no disciple saw more clearly the almost ironic truthfulness of the things Jesus was saying – predicting – that evening at the table.

3. Communion: The Prequel

Let’s look at a different dinner party – the first anointing of Jesus, also found in all four Gospels. ( Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; and John 12: 1-8) Although the details vary from book to book, the point I am going to make fits them all.

In this narrative, there is a gathering of people for dinner. A woman, a known sinner, Mary (possibly, as many traditions believe, Magdalene) breaks open a bottle of very expensive perfume and anoints Jesus’s feet with it. She is rebuked by the Disciples (Judas, of course, is named but others take part as well). Immediately, they get counter-rebuked by Jesus. He points out that she is doing a good thing and declares that “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Which turns out to be true, even 2000 years later!)

Many sermons on this event focus on the value of the oil/perfume, thus the value of our sacrifice and service in Christ (for others). Most focus of the idea that “her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Those are great and important lessons. But I want to take a different view in order to develop another point.

Instead, I want you to think about that lady with the tiny nose who sits three pews in front of you at church. (You try to make sure it’s at least three rows.) Or the ‘bro’ who walks past your cubicle 50 times a day.  “What do they have in common?” you ask. You can smell her perfume/his cologne from a mile away – and you can’t stand it!!! ‘They must put on a whole bottle!’ you think to yourself. You are literally embarrassed for them.

Imagine when Mary poured out A PINT! of fragrant oil on Christ’s feet, it smelled up the whole room!!!

And you know that your sense of smell is tied to your sense of taste? Yeah, so as the smell of the oil saturated the room, the wine that you “can’t believe is less than $20” and the food that you “have to get the recipe for” ended up tasting just like that perfume!


The whole party was ruined, and Judas wasn’t having any of it! I bet he was embarrassed for her.

4. The 2 1/2 Kinds of Embarrassment

When you’re embarrassed by someone, it is a bad thing. You want to be as unlike that person as possible. Teenagers are embarrassed by their parents. When you are embarrassed for someone, there is a sense of empathy in the contrast. You want the other person to be more like you. Parents are often embarrassed for their children. But these are really two sides of the same coin – in neither instance does the embarrassed want to be like the embarrasser. The exception is the ‘half’ in our two-and-a-half types of embarrassment. This is the case of feigned embarrassment, which is brought on by jealousy, and is almost always couched as being embarrassed for the other. The reason being that it is an egotistical replacement of you-wanting-to-be-like-them with you-wanting-them-to-be-like-you.

I think Judas was jealous of Mary.

Let’s take some time develop this:

Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heaven! […]

Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord ! Praise the Lord !

Psalms 150:1‭, ‬5‭-‬6 NLT

Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been watching a lot more church on TV and YouTube since this whole covid-19/stay-home thing started. And I have recently come to enjoy Steven Furtick and the messages he delivers from Elevation Church. In some ways, he’s like the pastor at Highland Community Church (in Columbus, Georgia,) where I am a member. They sing with their hands up and their eyes closed They yell out the emphatic parts of their sermons. They (attempt to) look you in the eye when they preach.

They are both like clanging cymbals; they are like a poured out pint of perfume. Their energy invades my personal space and makes me uneasy. Their zeal for the Lord and the gospel threatens my senses. If the ritual of Communion is a stand-in for our- for my – interactions with God through Jesus, their aroma saturates my food and drink.

Honestly, sometimes, I’m embarrassed for them.

Maybe I’m a little jealous.

5. The Embarrassment of a Christian.

My son used to always say he was “embarrassed” at the wrong time; he would literally use the term incorrectly. When we were teaching him to swim, he said he couldn’t do it by himself because he was embarrassed. When he started to learn to ride a bike, he wanted to keep his training wheels because he was embarrassed without them. When he said he felt “embarrassed,” he meant he felt anxiety. When he was”embarrassed,” what he really meant was that he was afraid.

I can relate.

I have felt different types of embarrassment throughout my Christian experience. Upon returning to the faith in my 30s, I felt it for changing who (I thought) I was and what (I though) I believed. Even now, because many of my political convictions don’t quite line up, I am a little embarrassed that, although the church that I attend is non-denominational, it is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. I never saw that coming! And I NEVER thought I would earnestly watch, much less enjoy, a megachurch service on TV. But I thoroughly enjoy Elevation Church as well as Passion Church and others. For one reason or another, these things give me anxiety and/or are difficult for me to admit.  There are plenty of other examples I could give, but you get the picture.

These things cause me to feel embarrassed, both privately and publicly. So, what it the source of this embarrassment? I think it’s easy to say that publicly, there’s a fear of being judged and/or stereotyped. But what about privately?

There are parts of me that still live in the past. Or more precisely, parts of me from the past that are still living today. There is the 18 year old too-cool-for-it self; the twenty-four-year-old-who-knows-everything; and the 30-something who is over-it-all. Those versions of me are still watching me and judging me. They are embarrassed by me. But there are also the future versions of myself that judge me. The 50 year old me who can’t believe how complicated I make things, or the 65 year old me who lovingly pities me for ever having felt this way – “bless your heart” comes to mind. They are embarrassed for me.

It’s like there is a society of Me. There seems to be a process involving a group of Me’s from the past conferring with a group of Me’s from the future, voting on how I feel now. As I look to scripture for ways of being, I find Philippians 3:13 – I forget what is behind and reach forward to what is ahead. And Romans 1:16 [Therefore] I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…

The two types of embarrassment we’re taking about can be seen as part of a subject-object relationship. When a supposed subject realizes his or her objectivity, they become embarrassed by the situation. But when an object is given subjectivity (receives empathy), the giver of subjectivity is embarrassed for the other.  The former expresses how we come to understand our sinful nature, the latter illustrates the functioning of salvation. (I’ll need to develop this more, but for now…)

6. Full stop – Recap

I started with an anecdote about my children gloriously feasting on homemade Communion elements, and contrasted their behavior with the more sparse and somber ritual that happens in most churches; which I compared to speculation about whether Judas could stomach more than a morsel of bread at Christ’s last Passover meal… Then, I laid out how we should not be ashamed of the gospel, but instead be like clanging cymbals or strong perfume, feeling free in sharing it with everyone.

Am I suggesting that the way we do Communion in church is treacherous?

No. Well, not exactly.

On one hand, we would rightfully be embarrassed for someone who ate a lot of bread (not to mention drinking too much wine) at a church Communion. That’s just not how it’s done.

On the other hand, shouldn’t we, as the Church mimicking the Last Supper, be embarrassed by the posture in which we consume it? (Key word: consume.) Wouldn’t our future “New-Heaven-and-Earth”-selves  be embarrassed for us, having a gracious pity that wishes we would enjoy the Eucharist as if we were eating at a five-star restaurant? Are we not, symbolically at the very least, eating and drinking of a meal that we believe gives us Life like no other can? Is it not an eternal ration that should be ingested (as opposed to simply consumed) with both reverence and eagerness? And shouldn’t we, like children, desire to go back for seconds, thirds, and so on, until we are filled; or until we are refused?

… … …

In one sense, we will never be refused. <–and that’s where week pick up in the next episode, as we dive deeper into navigating embarrassment.

P.S.  16 times in Leviticus, is an aroma is described as being pleasing to the Lord, and various other times in the Old Testament. Likewise, in The New Testament (Ephesians 5:2) it says “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2)…

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