“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.