“This is my body broken for you”: a profound personal experience in Bethlehem

 This post is dedicated to Brother Andrew. I recalled the event and decided to write about it following a conversation with him on my previous post, Martha and Mary. Christmas Blessings to all.

It was Sunday, near the end of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, February 2000. There was a small group of us from West Yorkshire, England. What better way to end our week than to celebrate Mass in our Lord’s birthplace? We joined in the young person’s service at mid-day in the Roman Catholic Church in Manger Square.

The church was brimming over with young Palestinian Christians. The service sheets were typed in Arabic and were incomprehensible to us. The beauty of the Roman Catholic Mass is that it follows the same pattern wherever you go and whatever language it is spoken and sung in. You may not know what readings or hymns are being proclaimed; yet you can follow the essential meaning of the Mass.

At one point a young Palestinian woman stepped up to read a lesson. I watched her in awe. I was thinking, she might be the age of Mary, the mother of Christ when the angel Gabriel called her. She might even resemble her in appearance. This is the real picture of Mary, not the white image in all my story books from childhood and present day Christmas cards.

I was blown away with the singing. It’s vibrancy and sweetness filled the church to its highest turret. Everyone was participating. Everyone was focused on worshipping our God.

And then the crescendo, the peak, the pinnacle of the service: sharing the Eucharist. One by one, my companions got up and filed past me. I stayed in the pew, head bowed, transfixed. I could not move. I was a Methodist, not Roman Catholic. I didn’t belong.

A thought went through me. No one would know. Only my companions; my husband and the group I was with.

I knew. The Divine Presence knew. I didn’t want to sneak around. I felt too much respect, too much awe, to go against the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and join in. I was a Protestant, a Non-Conformist, and allegedly did not have the same belief about the breaking of the bread. I so much wanted to identify and join in with this living part of Christ’s body. I stayed in my seat.

I started to weep. Usually when tearful, even when desperate to be quiet, the sniffs, and the stifled sobs can be heard. On this day, a stream of silent tears flowed down. Silent and relentless; once started, I was unable to stop. My companions returned. No one made a fuss. The service ended. I stayed still. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. My tears continued. Nearly everyone had left before I managed to bundle myself out of the church with my embarrassed husband, unsure what was up with me. I was unsure myself. Tears still tracked down my cheeks.

A few minutes later, sitting outside with the rest of the group, I regained my composure. Our group leader, a Deacon, came up to me. “The pain you feel is the pain God feels”. His words made sense. That was it. What had started as tears for myself at feeling excluded, had become much more. Dare I say it? Those tears were from the Divine. I had suddenly glimpsed the profound sadness of the Godhead at the broken-ness of His body, His Church.

After thought: At Christmas we are reminded: “the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:5). Are we part of that uncomprehending darkness? Are we continuing to create it for others? Let us pray that starlight can pierce tiny pinpricks in that night sky.

14 thoughts on ““This is my body broken for you”: a profound personal experience in Bethlehem

    • Thank you
      Somehow that tearful glimpse felt a privilege and sharing in God’s love for His Church. It was strange. I have felt much more compassionate for our combined foolishness ever since. (Although I do get my moments of irritation, frustration and hot headed anger at times.)
      Christmas Blessings!
      Love, Julia

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  1. I was born and raised in a Catholic family. My Grandmother was Catholic, I had learned as time passed my real mother who passed when I was three years old was Catholic but loved to join her nursing girl-friends at their churches too. My Grandmother shared this with me when I had a spiritual experience in a non-Catholic church that changed the course of my spiritual life. I was baptized as an infant and much later as an adult. I was confirmed as a young boy in the Catholic church and I questioned everything!
    But the Lord in His graciousness and mercy had another path for me and at the age of “almost” 17, I surrendered to Him the best way I knew how. Yes, I had my problems with the Church of my upbringing at first, but you don’t surrender to the Lord totally without His discipline and chastisement when we stray from true surrender. I learned the hard way, being humbled, big time back in the early ’70s when the Catholic Church was going through a transformation that our Heavenly Father has His servants and children no matter what the title or denomination. It took me a few years to come to grips with MY pride but once I did found that our Heavenly Father is faithful and TRUE in His love to all and to all who will come to Him openly and willingly, He will not turn away.
    Since then many of my Brothers and Sisters in Christ are of just about every denomination that believes in the Redemptive Blood of Jesus as our sign of spiritual rebirth and surrender! I have learned to NOT question a title for in Heaven there will be no titles except “Bought With LOVE” upon each and every saint! That is another reason why I will not argue or debate the Bible. I will more than willingly have an open discussion as long as it does not lead to division.
    Love should be the BANNER proclaiming our belief system, just as Matthew 22:35-40 states (paraphrased) “Love God with all you have and are and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments are the whole law and all that the prophets have spoken!” If you can “practice” following these two commands and make them an integral part of your life, spiritually AND in the flesh, then you are fulfilling the WHOLE of the Living Word of God for in these two commands is the Character and Nature of Christ, Himself!
    I loved the fact that you missed in your spirit the fellowship of the breaking of bread and that you were able to relate it to the sadness based in God’s Love for His unseeing children. The breaking of bread and the partaking of the wine is one of the most fulfilling and joyful sacraments/symbols of the Oneness of Christ and the Church as a spiritual Body. But, I am equally glad that you recognize those Divine tears are born out of love for His creation and the fact that even at this time in HIS-story we are still so far from where we need to be concerning the two greatest commandments!
    Julia, I love your writing, and your sensitivity to the spirit for it bears witness with your other Brothers and Sisters in the Lord to the greatness and diversity of the Holy Spirit’s gifts! God bless you in this New Year as you continue to bless and serve each of us and our Glorious Lord!!

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    • Thank you for your detailed and interesting comment.I am glad you could put into words an explanation of my sadness and what I was missing. Some people don’t understand. They say to me: “Why didn’t you go up, for a blessing at the very least? I would have done?” Or they say “I would have participated in the communion and not worried about the labels? It doesn’t matter these days.” And I think, yes, what stopped me? After all, the priest had allowed me to participate in the Eucharist back in my local parish in West Yorkshire. Was I just been stubborn, resistant and stupid?
      Kevin and I had been attending each others churches for a couple of years. There were many similarities. Yet if we pretended there were no differences we were not being true.Protestants believe the communion is symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus; Catholics believe in transubstantiation and that the bread and wine literally becomes the body and blood of Jesus.That is my understanding of the main sticking point.Strangely, Kevin who was raised a Roman Catholic, found it increasingly hard to believe in transubstantiation; whereas I began to allow the mystery that it could be so. Yet I was happy with my protestant faith and did not feel the need to convert.I just enjoyed exploring different explanations and different ways of doing things.I like the simplicity of some Non-conformist Chapels; the hearty singing; a long and thought provoking sermon. Equally I like the sense of the “Other” in the Roman Catholic Mass; the feeling of awe; reverence and worship and the links back to ancient prayers and hymns.

      Another place that I treasured on our trip, was a small church overlooking Jerusalem which is reputed to be the location where Jesus wept over the city crying out:O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

      I missed the fellowship of the Eucharist on that occasion. And yet I gained something-else. I felt God’s Love for his hard hearted people and for me. How many times have we fought over our differences, killed and been killed for professing different religious beliefs? And that is just in the Christian faith. That day I stayed in my seat and acknowledged the Divine sadness at the brokenness and divisions which still exist within His body, His Church.
      Hope you can make sense of these muddled thoughts.
      Best wishes for 2016
      Love, Julia

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      • Not muddled, Julia, very well expressed. It SHOULD sadden us at the things that divide when the Holy Spirit is crying out to us to be united in Spirit and the bond of love! I am so glad to read your perspective and I love the sensitivity of your heart towards the Lord and to those you count as brothers and sisters, not to mention the burden for the lost that comes through your writing!! God bless you Sis!!

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    • Thank you. It was such a surprise to me when I thought I was alone, I was NOT alone. And yes I was enlightened. Through grace I caught a glimpse of the profound Love that Jesus has for His body, the Church in all its messiness and division. And I am glad you find it enlightening too. Because for me that glimpse and the feeling of that Love has lasted. Julia x

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