Bread for the Journey

March 8, 2014

When I was a little kid, our church had Sunday night worship as well as the morning service. It was fewer in number and we all sat in the strangely shaped sanctuary in the middle section singing hymns, praying prayers, and listening to someone preach. Occasionally we would also celebrate Communion (also called Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper), which made a rare appearance in that church when I was young. I have since grown up and would celebrate Communion daily if I found a faith community that did so.

On one such rare occasion of celebrating Communion, my mother had us sat next to her, the four of us off to her left, with my little brother two seats down from me on the pew. Far enough to be out of his mother’s reach should he decide to do something. The brass plates were held up in prayer and then, as was customary, passed from person to person down the pew to the end, each participant taking a pinch of bread to hold for the moment when we all ate together. The server came to our pew, his plate full of a fresh loaf, untouched, unpinched. He slid the plate to my older brother on the end, who pinched off a piece, and who then turned to my little brother with the loaf in front of it. My little brother’s eyes grew wide as he saw the large loaf of bread and with the quickness that only a child of that age has, scooped the entire bread up off the plate and prepared to dig into it with a luster I have never seen since. The server dove at him from one end and my mother dove from the other end to try to rescue the bread from his tiny hands before it was unfit for anyone else. My younger sister and I laughed hysterically.

I’ve reflected on that funny experience a lot in my adult years. Especially as the act of Communion has become more and more important to my formation. I’ve participated in many Communion services- both as officiant and as a person in the chairs, receiving the special gifts from the special Table. Some experiences have made me wonder at the various theological implications of the act and the ways we do them and why. Some experiences have caused me to quiver with the reality of God’s presence in those moments. Some experiences have left me with an “eh” sort of response. All of have been quite educational.

But no Eucharist experience was more meaningful to me than some of the Communions I led and participated in during that season of confusion and darkness in our lives. Even in the questions that permeated our lives at the time, nothing was more important to me than coming to (and often presiding over) the sacrament of Communion. I worried for a time that maybe I should not take part in Communion. After all, I was so deeply questioning so much. Struggling so greatly with the weight of loss, the exhaustion of doubt, the heaviness of grief. Some days I was so angry, and others I was so tired, and still others I wondered if I was worthy of any sort of grace. And yet, that Table- that special time and place- when we gathered around bread and juice and with the grit of bread in our teeth and the taste of grape on our tongues, we would speak of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection again. Even as my heart strained to believe it sometimes, it mattered. It mattered so much to me because these truths were all I had. Whether I felt it or not, they were all I held. Or perhaps, they were all that held me.

Theologians have long argued that there is a mystery in the act of Communion. I have no desire to delve into all the theological arguments that have surrounded this practice. Those arguments interest me, but they don’t really matter. Yet that mystery does. I have always loved the Hebrew understanding of mystery. It’s not so much something to solved, or something that can never be known, as much as it is something that has not yet been revealed. “Not yet.” I think that’s important.

I was reflecting on this recently as our church group got together to sing and pray and hear the scriptures one evening. We gathered in the living room, the group small enough to feel a closeness to each other, but large enough to run out of chairs. The guitar strummed songs and the unique voices melded into some sort of choir. The scriptures were unplanned and fell from mouths that had been savoring them in personal reading. And the Communion- something I had never done before- a plate of sliced bread, glasses of wine. Eat your fill. Savor your sips of drink. Together and whenever and throughout and during. Reflect on each taste of wine, each slice of bread. Eat your fill. Sing your soul. Pray your prayers.

In the middle of our time, we were asked three questions that centered around the Communion Feast:

– What do you need to remember?

– What do you need to release?

– What do you need to receive?

As I thought about the last question “What do you need to receive?” I thought about mystery. About the mystery of the Table. But more so, about the mystery of my life. The mystery of what’s next. The mystery of what’s now. The mystery of God has for us and when and how and where. And I realized that I needed to receive God’s right to stay mysterious. To stay in the “not yet” of mystery. To trust that since he has not yet revealed it, it’s okay… because one day he will. One day.

And until that day, to receive with uplifted hands the little moments that are burst with the wholeness of God. To not simply receive bits and pieces of him, but to want the whole thing- the whole loaf of bread, as my little brother showed me so many years ago. To ask for more, more, more of Jesus until I am afraid that I cannot contain myself and then to plead for even more still. Because Jesus in us is the only hope. Jesus united to us is the way to walk the journey before us, cloaked in the mystery of God who reveals only at the right time. So in many ways, what we receive in Communion (and in many other ways) is Jesus, our Daily Bread, our Bread for the Journey. So that might welcome the mystery of the Spirit and walk into whatever lies ahead.

My little brother had it right. He didn’t know it, but he did. His childlike actions only showed us what we all may want- Jesus. More and more and more and more of him, of his grace, of his life, of his hope, of his strength, of his character, of his joy… more of him. Because it’s only by choosing to be united with him, deeper and deeper every day, that we are able to bear the not yet of God’s right to be lovingly, tenderly mysterious.

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