Every few years, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both fall on Sunday, which means we have church services on days we not normally do so. Yesterday, for me, it meant, other than my cup of coffee on the way to church, my first meal of the day and the new year was Communion.
In the United Church of Christ, we don’t have a set way Communion has to be served. The most common method is to pass trays of bread down each pew, followed by trays of small glasses of wine (or grape juice), so we all serve the meal to one another. Yesterday, we served by intinction, which means everyone came forward, tore off a piece of bread from a common loaf, dipped it in the common cup and then took both elements together. Either way, we always end up with leftovers.
On the one hand, the fact that we have all eaten and there is still more is a helpful metaphor for the expansiveness of the love of God in Christ: regardless of how much we need, there is always more. Yet, I watched as folks came through the line yesterday and they tore of pieces of bread so tiny that they could not dip them in the cup without getting their fingers wet. Why do we come the Table of God for the Ultimate Meal and nibble at our food like kids being forced to eat broccoli for the first time?
Several summers ago, when I saw how much we had leftovers after we had passed the food around, I sent the elements out a second time, and said then much of what I have said here. We still had more on the plates than ended up in anyone’s stomachs. I wished I had kept passing the stuff around until we finished it, until we settled in and really ate together. The focus on reverence in the meal in most churches has made us more aware of the precision of the plate passers than the power of the meal. I wish we felt the freedom to talk as we passed the elements, calling each other by name, telling stories of our faith, forgiving one another, and remembering why we gather together as the people of God. What I noticed most yesterday as people came through the line was the look in their eyes: am I dong this right?
Who can eat under that kind of pressure?
Springsteen says, “Everybody has a hungry heart.” He’s right. His words remind me of the last verse of Thomas Webber’s hymn, “Come, Ye Disconsolate”:
Here see the Bread of Life; waters flowing
Forth from the throne of God, pure from above.
Come to the Feast of Love; come, ever knowing
Earth has no sorrow but heaven can remove.
How can we come so hungry and yet feel that we are not worthy to take what we need to be filled?
One day, I want to share a Communion meal where each person has plenty of bread and we drink wine from large glasses that can be refilled so we can talk late into the night, telling stories of how Love has found us.
I’ll bake the bread; you bring the wine.