So we’ve been attending The Crossing for nearly half a year now. I’m a people watcher by nature, so it’s always fascinating watching the dance of getting to know one another. As church should be, there’s an interesting confluence of race and class each week. Each Sunday night gather ends with Communion and then sharing a meal together. And each week there are lessons learned in the partaking of Communion and the community meals together.
If the sacrament of Baptism is like entering into family—entering into community and pledging to be a part of it—the Communion meal is part act of living up to the pledge. Reflecting on what it means to be a part of that community, how easy it is to damage that community, what it means to reconcile with one another and with God. I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in I Corinthians 11:20-26:
When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Again, it’s funny how you can read something and yet see it in an entirely new light when you see it play out in front of you. In Paul’s day, too many people saw the ritual of the Lord’s Supper strictly as dinner time. For a few weeks in a row, we had a number of attendants see our community meal that way. Don’t get me wrong, we’re perfectly cognizant that some of the homeless in our congregation are there just for the free meal, and for many, it might be the only good meal they get that week. So nothing is begrudged there. The problem was in the selfishness of piling up one’s plate with no regard to other’s who hadn’t eaten yet. Which caused our pastor to exclaim that “This is not a soup kitchen” and we were reminded that this meal is no different than a family dinner. And while everyone is welcome, each person should be aware that they aren’t the only person in the family or in need.
Now, I’ve done my time in soup kitchens. I used to get together with friends, go down to Wheeler Missions and serve food to the homeless men there. It was a great time of fellowship for us workers. We’d prepare the food, serve the food, and clean up afterwards. Now that I think back on the time, us volunteers largely spent out time in the kitchen, rarely interacting with the men, while the men waited about like patient children. In that scenario, I think the experience was more about “us” as workers, learning to be servants, than it was about reaching out to the men and building relationships with them.
If the meals were to be more about the men, we would have had them help plan or prepare meals, asking their opinions, and working and talking alongside one another*. It’s the difference of having dinner with them as opposed to giving dinner to them. It’s not until you’re around people who are real all the time that you realize our comfort level with fakeness. Eating alongside one another means that one has to put to death any germ-o-phobe notions: during communion, we pull bread from a common loaf. Anyone afraid of homeless hands obviously assumes they know where my hands have been.
I also wonder about how much we take the idea of family for granted. I wonder what it must be like to have never been in a home with meal shared with family. Or not having learned how to have conversations. To have no relational connection to people, or being so focused on self and simple survival for the niceties of what we call politeness. So without lowering the standard for what it means, I try to increase my understanding and perspective. Just like others will have to learn to be patient with me for being … me.
People like the idea of community, but people don’t want community. People like thinking of church as a family reunion or get-together, then they remember how much their family sometimes annoys them. People like the idea of eating a meal together, but are too busy to sit down with folks. We like the idea of community, we hate the effort it takes to build and maintain it (“I want community but I don’t want to have to get out of my comfort zone”). We just need to remember that we’re all created in God’s image, we’re all broken, and we’re all capable of experiencing Christ’s reconciliation.
*It’s funny that even while writing this blog, I defaulted to an “us” and “them” language which I had to go back and edit.