Last Sunday (October 6) was World Communion Sunday. Prompted by logistical constraints, though perhaps serendipitously, we didn’t have a sermon. Or at least we didn’t have only one sermon. We asked a handful of members to share a story, or thoughts, or what-have-you based on the idea of Sharing at the Table. We also did something a little different (careful, there) with Communion. The table was decorated with textiles attempting to represent as much of the world as possible. The table held a variety of breads and grains available during the breaking of the bread.
Here is my Invitation to the Table – the Bread:
Christ shared so much over meals. He shared forgiveness over dinner with Zacchaeus. He looked sinners – broken and arrogant – in the eye and pronounced them whole. He broke bread with strangers, outcasts, alienated and alone. He changed them to friends, welcomed, and members of his body.
We celebrate communion differently today – in several ways. First, we will take the bread together in a few moments, and later in the worship, we will share in the cup.
You will notice the table is covered in textiles and in cups and plates and bowls and many kinds of breads – representing our brothers and sisters around the world.
We join with them today in celebrating Christ – his life, death, and resurrection – in our own shared meal – a meal we share in this place together, and a meal we share with those near and far. We celebrate the great spiritual mystery that out of such diversity, we may find communion in the common table of Christ.
In a few minutes I invite you to come forward, row by row, and choose a piece of bread – from any of the options you see – and return to your seat. We will eat together once everyone is seated. The cup will be passed later in the service.
Let us pray –
Bless now, O God, this table, this bread, this meal we share together. Keep us mindful of those with whom we share this bread in spirit – down the street and in far-flung corners of our world. We celebrate the diversity of your world – from the rocky west coast to our own plains and prairies, to the warm sands of the East Coast. From the dusty desert of Africa to the tallest peaks of Asia. From the cobblestone streets of Europe to the outback stretching across Australia. We thank you that your hands created it all, and that you care for and love it all. With many tongues and yet one voice, we honor you in our thanks and our meal today. May this bread connect us more closely with you and in relationship with your children. Amen.
Here is my reflection on Sharing at the Table:
This all started with the Presbyterians, this World Communion Sunday business.
Think of the 1930s – economic turmoil, wars and rumors of wars. In the midst of that context, Hugh Thomas Kerr – a Presbyterian pastor urged his fellow Mainliners to join brothers and sisters around the world at table of Christ – the table of grace – as a gesture of solidarity. It was and remains a day where we – in our words, our worship, our meal – celebrate the unity out of diversity wrought by the Spirit in Christ.
Jesus shared this meal first with his friends – his disciples – and he instructed them to do the same – “Do this in remembrance of me.” “This” refers, of course, to the meal we share – the bread and the cup – but also to his entire life of ministry. Jesus calls us to his entire life of teaching, healing and welcoming all – and we do this especially at our table. Jesus’ welcome was a radical, scandalous welcome. We are called, too, to open wide our table, open wide our welcome to convey God’s grace, love and forgiveness for all – all corners of humanity in every corner of the world.
Which brings me to Sara Miles – if you’ve paid much attention, you’ve heard me mention her several times before. But here goes again: one Sunday she was walking home, up the hills of San Francisco, after hitting the weekend market, and something compelled her enter the doors of St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church. She wasn’t seeking religion, she wasn’t aware that she was seeking God or Jesus, and yet, she found herself in the sanctuary, struck by the fragrance of incense and beauty of the iconography. When it came time in the service for the celebration of the Eucharist, she hesitatingly cupped her hands and received the bread that was offered her. Likewise, she received the sip of bittersweet communion wine (this is the Episcopal church we’re talking about!). Everything changed for her in a few chews, sips and swallows. She writes, “Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned and world I’d never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all but actual food — indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realized that what I’d been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed people.” (xiii)
She goes on to write beautifully and simply about Jesus’ call on our lives to feed one another, and to be fed, both with him and through him. We are fed in both literal meals and through the food of God’s mysterious grace.
What she felt called to do – almost without thinking – what she knew to the core of her being she was supposed to do was to feed people. Not feed them spiritual platitudes, or bible stories, or even a warm handshake. Or at least – not to feed them these things only.
She heard in Jesus’ words, in the mission of the church, a distinct call to feed people – real food to real people with real hunger.
So she started a food pantry – a food pantry that literally takes over the altar space of St. Gregory’s sanctuary.
It is a place where over 1,000 families receive food – fresh food, and leftover bread from some of San Francisco’s famed sourdough bakeries – literal tons of food move in and out of the sanctuary.
I have had the opportunity to visit and volunteer at the pantry on more than one occasion. And the experiences there have challenged my idea about God’s family. Not everyone who receives food is kind. Not even every volunteer fits my idea of hospitality – colored, of course, by my genteel Southern grandmothers. Not everyone fits the mold of sweet and compassionate volunteer. But people get fed.
There is room enough for all.
Sara’s story also changed my idea about communion. I grew up taking for granted that communion was for those who had passed through a specific rite – for those who somehow understood more than other people. Reading her book opened up a new appreciation of the mystery – after all, for those who venture to name communion a sacrament, we are essentially naming it a mystery – how is it we encounter the risen Christ in a simple meal. How is it that ordinary bread – and an ordinary cup of juice – can become for us more than literal food? Who are we to put limits or boundaries on the ways that God can reach human hearts, minds and spirits through the sharing of a meal?
There is room enough for all.
Indeed, as we spoke together at the beginning of the service – the table will be wide. And may our welcome, too be wide.