Thursday, July 31, 2008
Thoughts on Communion
My brother used to live downtown in the Methodist Church on a busy cross street in Providence. Across the street there is a convenience store that carries the usual milk, bread and potato chips. At some point, they began to carry cigarette papers and crack pipes, too. This upset my brother a great deal. He hurled invectives at the place and refused to shop there, even though it was the closest place around.
Today, we were at the same church hanging his gallery show. He has a series of photos from his trip to Southern Africa and the show goes up tomorrow. At some point, hungry and thirsty, I said I was going across the street for some drinks and a snack.
I stood at the refrigerator looking at the selection of drinks, when I noticed a smaller glass front refrigerated case off in a corner. Inside were tubs of kefir, a kind of creamy yogurt cheese. There were also clear tubs of what looked like humus, a paste made of chickpeas and sesame butter, lemon and garlic. I grabbed a tub of kefir and walked to the counter.
The girl behind the counter suddenly perked out of her lethargy and got a little interested.
'Do you know what that is?' she asked.
'Yes, isn't it a little like yogurt?' I replied.
'Yes! That is right!'
At which point her father walked out from the back room. He saw the kefir on the counter and got extremely excited. He ran and got a plastic spoon.
'Do you want to try?' he asked.
'Of course!' I laughed. He opened the lid and I realized that I had chosen one that had already been opened. No matter. The spoon slid into the thick white cheese and he handed a big blob of it to me. Heaven!
'Have another!' he said as he took the spoon back and dunked it again. (I guessed at this point I was buying this tub!)
'Wait. Try this...' he said as he hurried to the little refrigerator and came back with a tub of humus. He took the same spoon and scooped a big mouthful onto the end of it. The humus was incredible. Nothing at all like the oily, mealy variety you find in the grocery stores. This was a creamy tan color with striations of the greenish olive oil drizzled across the surface.
'Now this!' he laughed, pulling the lid off of a little container of flan.
During this whole feast at the counter, I learned that they were Syrians who had been living in the United States for 15 years.
When they discovered that the kefir, and now the humus, were intended as snacks, they ran to a freezer and pulled out a package of Syrian bread. Out came a slice which the daughter quickly defrosted in the microwave. The father slather kefir and humus on the bread and handed me a chunk to try. Oh, Heaven again.
I brought the feast back to the gallery in the church and relayed this story to my brother, who was convinced that the place must have changed hands since he had moved. Honestly, I don't think so. There were the same lottery tickets and crack pipes, alongside the potato chips and rolling papers. It just took someone to notice the kefir in the refrigerator to make connection with these owners..
In the Acts of the Apostles, God visits St. Peter in a dream. Three times he tells Peter that no food is impure. That it is ok to eat anything, despite the strict purity laws of the Jews of the day. Peter protests repeatedly, insisting that he would never eat food that wasn't pure... never eat with gentiles as is proscribed by the law. But God insists and moments later it is revealed that the servants of a Gentile are waiting for him to take him to join their master in a meal.
It seems to me that sharing a meal is one of the great moments of connection we, as humans, experience. Being invited to taste the food of a new friend's homeland, joining a former enemy at the table to eat and drink, sitting with people you don't yet understand or know, is truly miraculous in it's ability to bridge the gaps between us. Jesus taught this every time he broke bread with the broken. To eat with someone is to accept, love, heal.
Christians do this every time we take communion. I suspect Jesus chose that particular way of connecting because it is so powerful. Eating and drinking with each other is intimate. It is loving. It is radical, too, sometimes. We are drinking from the same cup. The doctors and lawyers. The professors and teachers. The addicts. The homeless. The sick. The well. The housewives, working people, students. Together we drink from the same cup and eat of the same body. With all Christians, everywhere in the world, for all of eternity. And with the person next to us at the rail.