Because I am not a pastor, I do not have the privilege of leading communion very often. As the worship leader last week for the Fellowship of American Baptist Musicians, I had the opportunity to offer a homily for Eucharist and then preside at the table. I give thanks (eucharisteo) for this blessing and recognize anew how Christ meets us in the breaking of bread.
Gratitude. Gratitude, as Diana Butler Bass writes, nurtures well-being. It unlocks the fullness of life, healing the past, empowering the present and casting vision for the future. The chief expression of this gratitude is when we gather at Christ’s table. There Christ “re-members” us, putting us back together as a community.
“The chief expression of this gratitude is when we gather at Christ’s table. There Christ ‘re-members’ us, putting us back together as a community. “
One day a student came rushing into chapel, running a bit late. He later told me he had experienced a little road rage on the way as someone cut him off in traffic. He confessed that he had responded with a less than charitable gesture. Then as he approached the table, he had to slow down and shift into another kind of time. It dawned on him that he was receiving a much needed lesson for life. Something changes in our very bodies as we move forward to receive the bread and cup. Our pattern of waiting, allowing others to go before us – not rushing like in traffic – demonstrates how we should live all the while. Indeed, it is rehearsal for life, and the habits we display when we receive communion make us whole and create space for others.
Welcome. The meal is intended to extend welcome, not exclude. Perhaps you have attended one of those churches where non-members (even immersed Baptists) were asked to move to the edge of the sanctuary and not participate. This is wrong, and “fencing the table” as it is called is not really our prerogative. It is Christ’s table, and he demonstrated through his ministry how important eating with others was. And there were many he made welcome who did not make the “respectable” list.
Hunger. Do we ever approach Christ’s table expecting to be fed? Brian Wren tells the story of holding a church workshop on sacramental theology. The weekend was to culminate in sharing in the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening. A little girl had been attending each session, hearing about the upcoming supper. She came hungry! During communion, while the adults broke off the smallest possible smidgen of bread, she took a healthy portion and sploshed it into the cup, ate it and smacked her lips. More than the others gathered, she expected the meal to assuage her hunger. Eucharist should evoke our deepest hunger, which is for Christ.
“As we extend the hospitality Jesus lived and taught, we are formed after his likeness, and we offer needed nourishment to others.”
Koinonia. Gathering at the table is more than remembering, however; it is participation in Christ and the lives of each other, truly koinonia. As the Body of Christ, we continually participate in the paschal rhythms of dying and rising, “keeping death daily before our eyes,” as the Rule of St. Benedict urges us. We know that it is by participation in Christ’s resurrected life that we will move from this life to the next in the power of the Spirit. The Eucharistic meal is preparation for that great messianic feast when “Christ himself will serve us with sweet manna, all around.”
The lectionary Gospel reading from John 6 for this coming Sunday narrates the feeding of the large crowd pressing in upon Jesus. Locating the boy’s two fish and five barley loaves, Jesus decides it is enough, and he feeds the multitude. First, however, he tests whether the disciples trust in his power. Basically, he is saying: “you feed them.” And they do, in faith. The mechanics of this miracle are obscure, and we do not know if this was an act of creatio ex nihilo that multiplied the elements of the meager lunch, or it was inspiration for all the people to share with others what they had brought, as Parker Palmer suggests. We do know that the people are fed, and Jesus looked to his disciples for this provision.
Just as Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread to the hungry gathered in Galilee, so he does with us. He takes us, blesses us, breaks us and gives us as his continuing embodied presence. We are to be “bread for the world in mercy broken.” Because God has nourished us in Christ, we are able to draw others to a life of thanksgiving. As we extend the hospitality Jesus lived and taught, we are formed after his likeness, and we offer needed nourishment to others.
In Christ, there is always enough, even some left over. Thanks be to God.