The 40 days continues with an extract from a chapter by the Baptist minister and theologian Ruth Gouldbourne, reflecting on the sacraments, story-telling and gender.
The sacrament of the Lord's supper also has elements in it that can be - indeed are, in other contexts - deeply identified with women. Above all, this is meal; celebrity chefs not withstanding, most of the preparing, cooking and serving of meals in our homes is done by women. It is clearly different from the patterns of a generation or two ago, but the discourse remains deeply female centred, and the expectation is that the ordinary and therefore life sustaining feeding in our communities remains primarily a female activity. all we need to see that is to look at the way the advertizing of food, cookbooks and implements is focused. This, of course, has its roots deeply in the biological fact that at birth the source of our nourishment is our mother.
What possibilities might we open if we began to retell the eucharist in terms of food preparation and serving? We already use images of the Lord's supper as food for the journey, but how seriously do we take it, and more to the point, how deeply might we develop it if we begin to tell the story in terms of food and feeding? What resources might we find for the development of Christian living as a way of living that changes the world as we focus on the Lord's supper as the meal that nourishes our Christian identity? Those who have responsibility for providing food, in particular for growing children, work hard, at least we hope they do, at keeping things balanced, at making sure there is enough and not too much, at satisfying and expanding horizons. How might some of this be present when we meet at the Lord's table; what satisfies us there, what nourishes, what develops, and so on? What might we gain in our understanding, and in the life-forming capacities of this practice if we make its feminine account of the world - food giving - more explicit?
And I believe we can press this further. If part of the identification of women as food providers is rooted in the capacity of mothers to feed infants, what dose do with the language of Jesus of his flesh being our nourishment, and might such imagery be developed (Jn 6.25-59)? For those of us who are Baptists, this is language of which we are very suspicious, with all its suggestions of transubstantiation. But it is scriptural. How might we retell the relationship with Jesus if we were to reconnect this language of body as food with our original experience of body as food, that is, our mother's milk? This is already present, of course, among some medieval mystical; mother Christ whose wounds are the food of the Christian Not language or imagery that we are used to, but what possibilities it opens us in exploring our relationship to Jesus as dependent on him for our life.
Now, let us press this a little further. At the table we celebrate the gift of life through the body and blood of Jesus, torn and exposed. I suggest that, again, if we are willing to let it be told, we have a very female story here; our birth is through the broken and bloody body of our mothers, and the experience of women in identifying blood with life is deep and visceral. Do we claim the language of blood as the gift of life, of the torn body as the means of life, enough? And what would speaking about it do to our encounter with Christ, and our own discovery of being those who are not only called into discipleship through the communion, but are nourished for the discipleship in and through eating and drinking?
Ruth Gouldbourne, 'Story-telling, sacraments and sexuality' in Anthony R. Cross and Ruth Gouldbourne (eds.), Questions of Identity: Studies in Honour of Brian Haymes (Centre for Baptist History and Heritage Vol. 6; Regent's Park College, Oxford, 2011), pp.248-250.