of cupcakes and communion


    Our house sits on the border between two neighborhoods, Old West Durham and Watts-Hillandale. The latter has a Fourth of July parade that goes back about sixty years. We even made the news:

    The line that stuck with me from the piece was the parade is “an unintentional tradition.” The couple that started it were looking for a way to keep their kids from getting bored during the summer and read an article in a parenting magazine that suggested a parade. Sixty some years ago, they were trying to do something fun with the kids and this year over eight hundred people showed up to march and watch and hang out and eat cupcakes. Though we were closed this week for vacation and general maintenance, our restaurant handed out almost seven hundred cupcakes (we made them at the catering shop) to help celebrate the day and the neighborhood. Here we are in action:

    (The Chef-Owner of the restaurant is handing out the vanilla ones, her daughter is in the middle, and I’m in charge of the chocolate.)

    We had Communion today, as we do the first Sunday of every month, which is, perhaps, my favorite part of worship. I did wonder as I ate and drank today if Jesus might have instigated an unintentional tradition as he served the bread and wine to those with whom he had shared most intimately. The question is valuable to me because the meal is all the more meaningful if it grew out of the power of the present tense — those disciples eating together to remember and passing on the memory — rather than as planned repetition: The First Annual Communion Celebration.

    I just finished reading The Shack (which I will talk about more along the way). One of the things God says to Mack, the protagonist, at the end of the book is, “It’s not about rituals.” The comment caught me because I’ve often spoken of the value of ritual (“meaningful repetition”) over tradition (“meaningless repetition”). What comes to me in all of this is unless what we share in the present, whether cupcakes or Communion, is resonant and relational in the present, all the ritual and repetition in the world won’t breathe any life into it. Last year’s loaves are stale, any way you look at it.

    I’m not much of a Fourth flag waver; handing out cupcakes to little kids and watching them dive into the icing was what made the day for me. I even saw some of them at the Farmers’ Market yesterday and somehow felt connected. What grabs me most about Communion is it is a table where all Christians have eaten, eat now, and will eat the meals to come. More than ritual, it is about connection. A place for everyone, and food, too.

    Many years ago, my friend Ken Hugghins talked about reading the gospel accounts and, after reading Jesus saying, “I will not drink of this cup until I drink it with you in the kingdom of God,” thinking we should all raise our glasses and say, “Here’s to the day.” That phrase led my friend Billy and I to write a song with that title. It comes close to being one of my favorites of what I have written.

    pieces of life laid on the table
    here is the blood poured out in love
    fill this cup raise it up
    here’s to the day my friend

    time draws a line down innocent faces
    tears mark the dreams that never came home
    so you’ll say goodbye say goodnight
    here’s to the day remember

    can you say it for the ones whose voices are silenced
    can you say it for the ones who’ve never been free
    can pray for peace ache for peace
    here’s to the day that’s coming
    God speed the day

    gather in close now cling to each other
    sing to the night you don’t sing alone
    fill this cup raise it up
    here’s to the day remember

    The intention of ritual that matters most is not in the ones at the beginning, but in those of us who keep handing down what we were given, as Paul says, “I will tell it to you as it was told to me . . . .” Would that we could eat and drink around the Table with the abandon and joy of those kids with icing from ear to ear.



    1. In my church we pass the elements with a solemn whisper to our neighbor “This is Christ’s body, broken for you.” I often ponder how electric it would be if, just once, we made that proclamation full voice, joyfully. As if we meant it. As if it were cupcakes.

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