Monday, August 6, 2012

food and drink

I was preparing to lead our faith community in communion a few weeks ago.  Frankly, I find the memorial ritual of eating bread and wine challenging at times.  Rituals are generally difficult for me to sustain because the process of repetition tends to diminish the immediacy and vibrancy of an action.  What begins as something wondrous can over time become trite and commonplace because the familiarity renders me numb to its amazing implications.  This is one of the reasons that I read a variety of biblical translations.  I do not mean this as an excuse; I know that my restlessness and lack of attentiveness are weaknesses.  However, they also prod me to go back to the basics and find new ways to engage with important words and traditions, to find language and action that remind me why this practice is life to me today.

And in the process of my preparation a few weeks ago, I came across two articles which aided me in this process and once again quickened me to take the meal of remembrance with reverence and delight. 

The first was a short piece by Mary Fairchild on why we observe communion.  She lists 5 reasons:  1) because the Lord told us to, 2) we are remembering Christ and all that he has done for us, 3) we take time to examine ourselves, 4) we are proclaiming his death until he comes, and 5) we show our participation in the body of Christ. 

In talking to the people in our faith community, I realized that most people, when participating in communion, usually focus on whatever is the primary aspect for them.  So in order to give ourselves time to engage with each one of these elements, a few weeks ago we partook of bread and wine five times, each time reading, pondering, and discussing one of the above reasons before eating and drinking.  The prolonged nature of the ritual gave us the sensation of sitting around a table for a meal instead of hurriedly grabbing a snack.  As the time passed and the levels in the cups diminished, I could sense that the group was becoming more and more content to sit with Jesus and with each other.  Peace.

The second article was something I had written about a year and a half ago and totally forgotten about.  It also speaks to the relevance and immediacy (present here and now, directly accessible) of Jesus' body and blood.  I read it before we began our five-fold communion.

Every morsel of food I eat and every drink I take reminds me that I cannot sustain this life without constantly eating and sharing in the life of Jesus.  My spirit is hungry and thirsty and needs to sit at the feast of Jesus often:  sometimes just the two of us in an intimate and solemnly sweet rendez-vous and other times with a large and lusty group.  As often as we eat and drink, we can remember who our life comes from.

On the other hand, the familiar symbols seem to have become sanitised in some ways by being incorporated into a tidy church setting.  Everything is too clean and orderly.  Baptism these days carries very little of the awkward, cold, naked, shivering, out in public, vulnerable declaration of ,"Oh God I'm drowning in my sin and need your divine breath and spirit to make life where there is death." 

Eating the flesh and blood of Jesus is so much more than a tiny morsel of bread and a gulp of wine.  This union with Jesus plunges us into a world where we identify betrayal in and around us; we feel the agony in the sweat and blood and tears of surrender; we see the tearing of the flesh and witness the lifeblood pour out in a sticky, nauseating ooze; we smell death in the air and resist the urge to cover it up with expensive spices, choosing instead to wait for the divine seed to burst forth from the decaying wasteland and shock us all with its blinding love.

I think that these things are more holy and less distant than we know.

Matte from Montreal

You can check out Mary Fairchild's full article here.
the photo:  a shared supper this spring with some colleagues, one of whom has since passed away.

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