Lent, Communion…and Hip Hop?

April 13, 2016  |  Craig St. John

By Will Vucurevich

Over the course of this blog series, we have been reflecting on the words used to describe how Jesus instituted Communion during his last meal with his followers in Matthew 26:26. We have walked through Jesus taking the bread, blessing it, breaking it, giving it, and then speaking over it. My prayer has been that reflection on these words would draw us nearer to God. I believe that words are powerful. God spoke creation into being; his Word shapes us and informs us. Those of you who know me well know that I love words.

I first fell in love with words when I first met hip hop. This may be a surprise for some, but the art form intrigued me. I dove head first into hip hop culture, history, and art. Hip hop was my initial introduction to poetry. Hip hop showed me that selected words, when strung together with intention and passion, could transform a song into a sermon. That a simple line could lament or laugh, curse, cry, or cause a crowd to cheer.

I was and am fascinated with the history behind the art form. Inner-city kids, whose school music programs had been defunded, made music from what was available, parents’ records and turntables. These kids discovered that they could loop their favorite parts of the songs, switching back and forth between two records spinning on turntables. This part of the song, typically between the chorus and the bridge, was known as the “breaks.” While not everyone was drawn to spinning records, or DJing, some loved to dance. As the DJs spun these records, some in the crowd began a new style of dance to these breaks, they would become known as break dancers. Another element was birthed. In order to get the crowd energized, and to promote the DJ, some would get on stage and speak simple rhymes, usually calling attention to the greatness of the DJ. These MCs were known to move the crowd. Thus, hip hop was born.

What does this history lesson have to do with Jesus speaking in first century Jerusalem during his last meal with his rag tag group of followers?

Let’s imagine living out these words of Jesus’ actions through the lens of hip hop.

Jesus owns the block and is throwing a huge block party. He takes us from outside and invites us in. The meal is already paid for, at great cost to him. He invites us to enjoy, free of charge to us. He blesses us with front row seats to see what he is doing in our lives, in our communities, and in the world. The party of Jesus is beautiful and inviting. We feel a pull to dive deeper into this blessing. In the midst of this experience, we are well aware of our unworthiness to be here; our insecurities, our brokenness shout loudly in our souls. We feel our lack; our music programs have been defunded by our parents’ poor choices in the garden. Poverty is passed down. We don’t have the resources to participate in this party. We can see others enjoying themselves, happy, healthy, whole. As we look around, trying to find the right words, we see the records and turntables of our lives. We can allow Jesus to use or lack, our brokenness, our “breaks” to spin and mix beautiful music to give for the enjoyment of our community. As those who understand our calling, our blessing, and the beautiful ways Jesus, our DJ, mixes the breaks of our brokenness, we can’t help but grab the mic and speak, to declare the glory of the greatest of all time. As Ephesians 2:10 reminds us, we are God’s poetry, spoken word, hip hop verses remixed and mastered to move the crowd to throw their hands in the air (in praise), to move (into our community to spread blessing and shalom), and to declare yes yes y’alls (in other words, amen).

One of my favorite MCs describes hip hop as the “wartime snapshot.” I love that imagery. I can see a soldier hunkered down in a trench, chaos all around, finding hope and strength in the picture of a wife and young child.

I think this is something like what Jesus had in mind with Communion. In the midst of the chaos of our lives, as the world and our self-focused desires war against our souls, we have this beautiful image of the meal. Christ’s body broken for us. His blood spilt on our behalf.  There is strength and hope in this snapshot of sacrifice. There is abundance in this picture of generosity that can’t help but spill out into lives of those we come into contact with.

May we continue to be shaped by the sacrifice of Good Friday and the hope the burst forth on Easter Sunday.