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“This is the body of Christ, broken for you. Forgive the referees.”

An elder said this to me as I took communion on the last day of 2023. The night before, the Detroit Lions had a victory taken from them because of an official’s mistake. After staying up late having my heart broken, I’d gotten up early to read all I could about the previous night’s fiasco and headed to church filled with righteous anger.

Among the many indignities to happen to Detroit over the years is a series of bad calls by referees and umpires. The Lions have been cursed, but so have the Detroit Tigers. The play brought back memories of the most egregious officiating mistake in Detroit sports history, when Jim Joyce called a runner safe who was clearly out and took away Armando Gallaraga’s perfect game. When he saw the video replay, Joyce confessed his error, was tearfully contrite, and therefore won everyone’s sympathy. Joyce wasn’t a machine, he was human, and humans make mistakes. Before the next game he and Gallaraga embraced at home plate in a moment that transcended sports.

But in this case, the referees doubled down on being correct. Never mind that there is video evidence supporting the Lions’ case. After a few days of silence, the league blamed the players, saying the Lions had engaged in gamesmanship and deception. Yes, that was the point. They were trying to deceive the other team. Unfortunately, they fooled the referees as well. Without fanfare, the league demoted the officiating crew in question from working any playoff games—yet there was still no admission of error. Forgiving someone who admits a mistake is the path to restoration. Forgiving someone who stonewalls and then blames you presents something much more difficult.

I smiled when the elder said what he did to me. We hadn’t spoken that morning, but he’s a Lions fan too and I assume he spent the morning reading the same reports I had read before coming to church.

I suspect he was having a bit of fun, but his words hit me with theological profundity. They were exactly the words I needed to hear. I needed to let go of the football game, which is nothing more than a distraction. Sports are one of the ways I turn away from the despair-inducing realities of modern life. The elder was calling me to open my eyes to what was important. Real life with real people was happening around me and my head was still stuck in fantasy land.

Later, I started to imagine scenarios where elders peered deeply into my soul and said exactly what I needed to hear as they distributed the sacrament. What might I hear?

“Let go of your anxiety.”

“Be kinder to those you love the most.”

“Grow up and stop comparing yourself to others.”

Even later, it occurred to me that they are in fact already peering deeply into my soul and saying exactly what I need to hear. They do it when they say, “The body of Christ, broken for you” and “The blood of Christ, shed for you.”

I don’t know how communion works. I don’t understand what happens between God and me or what happens to the bread and wine during communion. I say that with the benefit of a seminary education and 35 years of ordained ministry. I take heart that John Calvin wrote that his mind could conceive of more than his tongue could express and the mysteries of the Lord’s Supper were beyond what his mind could conceive. (Unfortunately, he then spent the next 75 pages of the Institutes trying to explain what he’d just called an inexplicable mystery.)

I have let go of the convictions I had as a young man about sin and needing to be washed in the blood of Christ to satisfy the wrath of God. Those ideas don’t convict me anymore. I am not convinced that my sins are an outrage to God worthy of God’s wrath. I have no sense that God is angry at me or anyone else. I imagine God being disappointed, not angry—which makes me wonder how much of my theology comes from my family of origin. Am I the only one who has “We’re not angry, just disappointed” tapes playing in his head? It’s disappointment, not anger, that is the primary emotion I am able to attach to God. I wish I found it easier to attach the emotion of love to God, but that’s still a stretch.

I say the prayer of confession and receive the sacrament not because I understand, but because I don’t understand. I receive the body and blood of Christ as a stay against disappointment. I receive communion to help myself believe God’s primary emotion towards me is love. I wish I received the sacrament more often. Even though I have no idea how it works, I know I need it.

I need the sacrament, not because I’m a wretched sinner in the hands of an angry God, but because I’m a human who happens to be, in the words of Frederick Buechner, a “part-time Christian because part of the time seems to be the most I can manage to live out my faith: Christian part of the time when certain things feel real and important to me and the rest of the time not Christian in any sense that I can believe matters much to Christ or anybody else.”

I drag my part-time Christian self to the front of the church, open my hands, and receive the body and blood of Christ. Once an elder said, “Forgive the referees.” Other times, they only say, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you,” and “This is Christ’s blood, shed for you,” a message that God is not angry, or even disappointed, but that God loves me—and us—more than anything else.

Jeff Munroe

Jeff Munroe is the editor of the Reformed Journal. 


  • Jeff — so good. And that Buechner quote. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    From one who gave up on the Lions back in college days, who subsequently left his ancestral home of Michigan to live the past 40+ seasons in Chicagoland, thus becoming a Bears fan, I’ve had to learn to forgive players/coaches/owners/sportswriters & “commentators,” let alone the poor officials.
    Lots of baggage carried at communion, as a recipient for over 50 years, as an elder serving 4 different terms with 3 different pastors, I’ve come to the table “tossed about, with many a conflict many a doubt, fightings and fears within, without”:
    This is Christ’s blood, shed for you/This is God’s gift to you/Remember and believe—all active in motion at the same time, and my inner coach, my inner referee, have to make a call for that moment . ..

  • Alfred Jackson says:

    Jeff, your words, as always, provide a path to help keep me centered on the important things in life. Why do so many feel The Mystery of Faith has to be solved and justified? Thanks for sharing and giving us that path which does not need a final destination, at least not in this lifetime.

  • Kathryn Vilela says:

    This resonated so deeply with me today. It’s like you peered deeply into my soul and wrote exactly what I needed to read! 🙂 Thank you for this.

  • Keith Vander Pol says:

    Your words reflect my response to Jeff’s essay. Thank you for expressing this!

  • Keith Mannes says:

    Hmmm. Yes. Thank you.

  • Jack Ridl says:

    I have always been shaken by “Hmmm.” I like it forthright. Anyway, thank you Jeff, so very much. As one all but made of “I don’t get it,” your words are wonderfully, paradoxically comforting. This coach’s kid has yet to find a way to forgive certain refs. At my father’s funeral, when a ref appeared in the receiving line, I said, “What are you doing here? You never could correctly call charging.”
    Sports are the center of American culture. It’s hard for thoughtful people to face it. You get it. And what it does to us. I won’t recover. I need to forgive.

  • Steve Norden says:

    Thanks, Jeff. I did find this amusing, however:

    Child Who Dreamt Of Being NFL Referee Gets Devastating News That He Was Born With 20/20 Vision
    Jan 17, 2024 ·
    Click here to view this article with reduced ads.
    Article Image
    PIERRE, SD — According to reports, young Martin Durfling had his dream of being an NFL referee completely crushed after learning he was born with a genetic condition that would prevent him from ever reaching the big leagues. After multiple visits, doctors confirmed that Durfling was born with 20/20 vision.

    “Martin’s taking it well, but we’re in a daze as a family,” said Martin’s father while his wife wiped away tears with one of Martin’s toy yellow flags. “How do you adjust to a new life that is suddenly void of your child’s lifelong dream, simply because he was born with the unfortunate gift of sight?”

    The Durfling family Optometrist said the family should have seen the warning signs in Martin early on, including his ability to make out large objects like trucks and houses. “The fact that he could watch a football game on television and know what was happening – we should have known,” cried his mother, Donna. “If only he had suffered some terrible accident, like acid being splashed into his eyes, his dream would be alive. Why, Lord?”

    At publishing time, Martin Durfling had embraced a new dream of becoming an NBA referee after learning to accept bribes.

  • Albert Veldstra says:

    “Am I the only one who has “We’re not angry, just disappointed” tapes playing in his head? It’s disappointment, not anger, that is the primary emotion I am able to attach to God. I wish I found it easier to attach the emotion of love to God, but that’s still a stretch.”
    It’s as if you reached into my mind to pull out what’s been playing for years! You answered the question. Thank You!

  • Valerie Van Kooten says:

    In reflecting on the- very conservative church of my childhood, some of the “communion baggage” started with the Preparation for Communion form read the week before from the pulpit. Some of you may remember it….the old blue Psalter Hymnal, with a list of sins that would keep a believer from participating in communion the following week. After this seeming unending string of transgressions that weighed like an anchor, there was a sentence that was supposed to encourage you: “But this is not designed, dearly beloved brethren and sisters, to discourage the contrite hearts of the believers…” Too little, too late, I always surmised.

    It’s surprising that anyone felt worthy to take communion.

  • Lena says:

    I do not see The Lord’s Supper as a “mystery”. Jesus told the disciples ( and us all) at the Last Supper to eat bread (symbolizing His body) and drink wine from a cup (symbolizing his blood), both of which Jesus offered up for the forgiveness of sins, Jesus said to do this to rember Him. This ceremony is an oberservance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross for His forgives of our sins. This is not difficult to understand, and is a foundational Christian concept.

  • RZ says:

    Dear Lena,
    Thank you for engaging. I often read your replies multiple times, attempting to accurately understand. I genuinely admire your persistence and your zeal. In fact I often envy your ability to get from A to Z so directly. Please be patient with those of us whose minds just cannot by-pass B, C, D, and beyond. I will willingly admit it. I am a truth-seeker. Perhaps you are a truth-defender. It would be disingenuous and something less than spirit-led for me to reach certainty so directly. We both do have the same ultimate goal however, namely God’s truth. Like the referees and umpires, we really want to get it right, with replay if necessary.
    So I applaud Jeff’s sincere testimony here, recognizing that it probably frustrates you. I suspect my own thought processes frustrate you, always scrutinizing and questioning. I do believe though, that God ( being more patient than angry) would prefer sincerity to a forced confession. The Bible is a complicated (collection of) book(s) and the catechism, though brilliantly helpful, is not a perfect interpretation. It was, after all, written for a specific purpose and to a specific audience in a specific period of history. So, by the way, are the footnotes in our 21st Century NIV.
    So thanks for listening. Your perspectives are sincerely considered as part of the dialogue.

  • Rudy says:

    If I look at our marriage my wife would have a faith like Lena expresses while I live in the mystery. I’m sure our Lord loves us both and we have been happily married for over 50 years. Perhaps as we are all individuals and very different everyone’s faith is unique. I appreciate my wife’s and Lena’s faith but it is not how I experience God’s grace to me.

  • Katy Sundararajan says:

    Thank you, Jeff. I love this part so much: “I receive communion to help myself believe God’s primary emotion towards me is love. I wish I received the sacrament more often. Even though I have no idea how it works, I know I need it.” I couldn’t agree more.

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