I’m reading an astounding novel right now called So Far From God, by the Chicana author Ana Castillo. Castillo narrates the story of Sofia, a woman in rural New Mexico who is mother to four daughters with rather unusual gifts of healing and prophecy. Sofia’s husband, Don Domingo, was a gambling man who left Sofia when the girls were still very young, only to return years later after they were grown with nary a word of explanation. In a conversation with her otherworldly youngest daughter, La Loca, in her kitchen, Sofia wonders whether she should forgive Domingo for leaving. La Loca, in her characteristically profound way, tells her mother this:
“Here we don’t forgive, Mom… Only in hell do we learn to forgive and you got to die first. That’s when we get to pluck out all the devils from our hearts that were put there when we were here. That’s where we get rid of all the lies told to us. That’s where we go and cry like rain. Mom, hell is where you go to see yourself. This dad out there, sitting watching T.V., he was in hell a long time. He’s like an onion, we will never know all of him– but he ain’t afraid no more.”
I think La Loca’s words, who herself died and saw hell, tell us something about this table. For this table represents, in part, defeat at the hands of hell. It represents more than that, certainly– but not less. It is easy for us to forget this, given the august settings in which this remembrance is often performed. But if we take seriously that Jesus was wholly human, what we celebrate here is the breaking of his body, the destruction of his very self.
So the table is for those who lose themselves, or have their selves taken away. It is for those who, like Jesus, risked all out of love and justice and lost everything, even their own lives. It is for all of those who have tried mightily and failed. It is for all those who have endured abuse and hardship at the hands of the powerful and successful. It is for all those who are threatened with being killed by governments, whether their own or another’s. It is for all those who are made to suffer and encouraged to deny themselves precisely on account of who it is they love.
If you aren’t feeling particularly defeated or oppressed today, not to worry; the table doesn’t exactly hold our successes against us. But it is here to remind us that life is never an unbroken string of triumphs. And it also reminds us that, in Christ resurrected, we all have the ability to say these things out loud, to own our losses, and know that we are larger than they are, through the one who triumphed over death. And we also encounter here the one in whom and through whom our lost, spent selves, broken, divided, and scattered in defeat, are brought together and made perfect and whole in community. It is where we, after a sojourn in hell, finally see ourselves as who we were meant to be.
Come, now, for all things are now ready.
PRAYER: Merciful, gracious, and loving God, we gather here around your table, bearing with us tattered and torn bodies of death. We lay them upon your table, great Healer, in trust that you, who have conquered death, will make them whole and reconcile us one to another. And now, reconciled to one another in your resurrection, let us pray the prayer that Jesus taught us: [LORD’S PRAYER]