Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bread

In the United Methodist tradition of Christianity, the Communion Table (known as Eucharist in many traditions) is open. The Open Table means that everyone, no matter who they are or where they have been, is welcome to partake of the sacrament. This includes children.  There are theological reasons for this beyond the simplest "Jesus would have included everyone." However, this is not the place to go into the theology behind it.  As I pondered this question, I was taken back to a Sunday service many years ago when my now 22 year old daughter was about three. At the time, I was a single mother, and was not a regular church-goer. In fact, I spent more time at Wiccan circles than in the Christian church. Even then I was seeking something common in both paths.

As I was not a regular congregant, I was a bit shy and easily embarrassed. That Sunday, I got up to take Communion, and my daughters went with me. My seven year old took her bread, dipped it in the grape juice, and placed it in her mouth. The three year old followed her sister's lead. Reverently, she accepted "The body of Christ, given for you," and dipped it into "The blood of Christ, shed for you"(many churches practice intinction rather than drinking from the common cup).  Next, it was my turn. The girls were walking back to their seats.  As I dipped my bread, torn from the loaf, and placed it in my mouth, I heard my little one say (quite loudly), "I'm still hungry!" It was all I could do not to spit the host from my mouth!  I covered my face and hurried to her. I took her hand and we sat back in our seats next to my other daughter, who was laughing so hard she could hardly stop.

The rest of the congregation were still giggling as Communion ended and the pastor stepped back up to the pulpit. After the service, people came to us and talked with my girls. Those who didn't talk to us smiled at my little one, eyes dancing with the laughter from earlier. In the moment of my daughter's "faux pas" the people gathered in that room were united in the delight they felt at her cuteness. I had been embarrassed, but in the jocularity, I forgot my embarrassment and just loved my daughter for who she was. Her big sister thought that the moment was the funniest thing she'd seen in awhile. So, the bread was the center of the experience, yet it was the laughter that brought everyone together for a moment.

While this happened in what was meant to be a solemn ritual of Communion, the lightheartedness of it made it into a different kind of Communion - or Community - for a moment. It wasn't until much later that I realized the import of what my daughter had said. For unwittingly she had made a great theological statement.

You see, the bread and wine (juice in the United Methodist Church) are meant to represent the sustenance of life, both physically and spiritually. It is more than the words "The body of Christ, the blood of Christ." It is the very food that sustains us, for which we pray "give us this day our daily bread." It is the blood of life that connects us all in that we all need blood to carry the nutrients to the cells of our individual bodies to keep us alive.  It is the meal around which we recognize the holiness in one another. The bread and wine together are meant to represent our spiritual lives and our connection to God through Christ. In most Christian denominations, the ritual is understood to connect all those who claim to "follow Jesus."  In my Inter-Spiritual denomination, it is understood to be a universal connection - all sentient beings are sustained and elevated through Communion and community, even those who do not physically partake. In the Wiccan/Pagan tradition, the feast of bread and wine or mead represents these same things. We are hungry physically when we are deprived of bread (food), we are thirsty physically when we are deprived of liquid (wine, mead, water). We share that we might sustain one another. Yet on the metaphysical level, the bread and wine represent the spiritual sustenance that we need to grow closer to God/dess and closer to one another and all living beings. "May you never hunger, may you never thirst," we say.

When my daughter said, "I'm still hungry," she spoke aloud the need of all spiritual people. When our stomachs are full, we are satisfied, but it is only temporary. When we find ourselves spiritually fed, we realize the possibilities for greater things, and seek to find fulfillment. As long as we are living on this earth, humans will seek spiritual fulfillment in some way. I believe that even those who do not think spiritually seek deeper fulfillment than material success can provide. As long as we live, we will still be hungry. As we go along our paths there will be way stations where for a moment we can taste our ultimate connection with all that is. Communion, Feast, breakfasts, lunches, teas, or dinners with friends or sharing a bottle of water with a homeless person - these are the way stations where we can know for a moment what complete unity and fulfillment taste like.

In the meantime, we're still hungry.



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