A group from our church got together tonight for dinner – actually, for a Japanese dinner. Of the eight of us gathered around the table, three had lived in Japan (one of them teaches Japanese at a local high school) and one had Japanese relatives. We had an authentic Japanese meal: sukiyaki and nabe. I’ve cooked a lot of different things, but I know very little about Japanese cooking other than I’m a big fan of the eel roll at our supermarket’s sushi bar.
When I got to the house where we were eating, people were in the kitchen chopping the vegetables that were going into the dinner: daikon, bok choy, Napa cabbage, a variation on a scallion whose name I forget, and a couple of very cool kinds of mushrooms (enokitake and something translated as crab mushrooms). There were also some jelly-like noodles, cubed tofu, and thinly sliced beef. (The nabe was the vegetarian version of the dish.
At the meat-eating end of the table, where I was sitting, there was an electric skillet. The chief cook began by adding a little oil and then sautéing some of the meat. The she added the daikon, the bok choy, and the cabbage to let them soften a bit. She then began building the sauce, adding vegetable broth, soy sauce, sugar, and aji mirin. As we watched and talked, she added the rest of the ingredients and let them simmer in the sauce for a bit as she cooked the meal right in front of us. We then filled our bowls and ate until the skillet was empty.
A year ago, on this very Saturday before Thanksgiving, I finished my drive from Marshfield to Birmingham, my Cherokee packed with all the things that wouldn’t fit in the Pod for our move to Durham. We spent Thanksgiving at my in-laws and made the final leg of our journey the week following. This year has been a lot like the dish tonight: a collection of ingredients, some cooking faster than others, somehow coming together to create, well, something that is feeding us here.
Besides going to enjoy the meal, I also went as a liaison from the deacons to this group of young adults in our church who wanted to talk about Communion. And so we sat at table together, sharing our food and our stories and contemplating the Lord’s Supper. I did some prep work of my own this afternoon, looking for quotes and information. The most interesting discovery I made had to do with intinction. I’m fairly clear about the fact that it is my least favorite way to receive Communion. I can identify two reasons why. First, my introduction to it was from a minister who saw it as expedient – two courses delivered at once – and I don’t think Communion is about expedience. Second, if I’m going to have a meal, I want both courses, thank you. In my searching this afternoon, I learned intinction became part of American Christian practice primarily because of the tuberculosis epidemic in the 1930s. Rather than expedience, it grew out of a response to the very real fear of disease and death; the church had to figure out how to serve the elements in a way that wasn’t life threatening. There was more theology and ministry going on there than I realized. Though I still want to eat and drink, I will move forward in a different spirit the next time we celebrate in that manner.
As we shared our feelings and opinions with one another, we all had some things that were more taste than theology and we talked about why they mattered to us. The discussion ultimately ended up with our talking about why we are glad to be together in our church. Around the table tonight, we re-membered the body of Christ.
In my searching this afternoon, I came across a quote from A. W. Tozer that spoke to me:
Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified.
Communion is that tuning fork for me. I’ve been a part of churches in Africa and Texas and Massachusetts and now Durham and celebrated Communion in all of them. Though the meal might not have been served in the same way, it was the same meal – the same meal shared by Christians across the centuries, to be shared for the centuries to come, each morsel of bread and sip of wine echoing the resounding tone that tunes our hearts to God’s key of life.
The gifts of God for the people of God.