by Paul Hooker
The body and blood, he says, and holds aloft the bread and cup.
Broken for sin, poured out in forgiveness,
God’s gifts, he says, for God’s people.
Come, for all things are ready—
Broken for us.
We come as is our wont, a thousand in disciplined lines,
Hands prepared to receive the sacred sacrifice.
I join a line, far back, shuffling slowly,
In penitential pilgrimage toward
The elements of grace.
Ahead, a woman holds the paten, laden with the broken bread—
Not a loaf, whence I might wrench a ragged piece,
Tangible symbol of God’s own self-rending—
But careful cubes, as if to manage mystery
In respectable geometry.
Closer now, the crowd parts, and I see her face, smiling, nodding
To each one as we approach, receiving from her hand
Forgiveness expressed in grain and yeast.
Stunned, recognition dawns. She is
Mother of my former wife.
The line becomes a litany of ancient aches, shallow-buried grievance,
A quarter-century’s unspoken words, or words that ought
Not have been the burden of wounded tongue or pen.
Relationships broken, wrenched asunder,
Hard-restored, still uncertain.
How can I, who make my sad contribution to that liturgy,
Whose steps yet tread the perilous path, take from her
This packaged pardon, cut by other hands than ours,
We, who must forgive and be forgiven,
Yet have not words to say?
I am not ready. Too soon I stand before her, hands empty for the gift
I have no right to offer or receive. She looks aside, still
Speaking to one already gone. She turns,
And for the first time sees my face.
Her eyes ignite with joy.
She raises her free arm, unburdened by the paten, and wraps it
Round me, drawing me in, inhaling her delight, exhaling
Welcome in a ragged sigh. She releases me at last.
Forgiveness in her eyes, and tears in mine.
I cannot see
Congregation, penitent line, veined hand bearing the morsel—
All things become one thing, and the one thing is the bread.
She offers me a plateful of brokenness—hers, mine, ours
Christ’s body, she says, broken for you.
Broken for us.