Pastoral Series

Worship Matters: Eat a little, drink a little

   In worship, we eat and drink. We are used to this, and take it for granted. But how odd! If you attended a lecture on the military tactics of Genghis Khan, you would be stunned if you were invited to come to the front where you’d be handed just a bit of Chinese food; or if you visited a gallery featuring French Impressionism, and the docent insisted you take a bite of paté and a sip of a Bordeaux. When we hear about Jesus, we eat a little, and drink a little – and it’s magic, a miracle.

Jesus rarely gave a direct command. But about this bit of bread and wine, he clearly said “Do this.” When we do this, God is pleased. When you partake of Holy Communion, it’s just a little thing, but you can be 100% confident you are in God’s will. Why not do this as often as possible? Maybe even every day?

But just as the Israelites couldn’t scamper out and bag up a week’s supply of manna, you can’t take four pieces of the bread when you get to the front and save it for Tuesday or Thursday. Each receiving is fresh, a one-off, done and yet the impact lingers.

You can’t have Holy Communion when you’re home alone. This meal is something we do together, or not at all.  How odd: we think of spirituality as a private, individual activity, but the one most essential act Jesus told us to do is something we can only do in the good company of others.

And the others can’t be just my pals or folks I enjoy, mirror images of my vanities. For community to happen, all must be welcome, and treated equally. Jesus, after all, spoke with his most frequent dinner companions and urged them to include the unlikeliest people, the neediest, at their tables. Perhaps this helps us understand and applaud the fact that Jesus settled on bread and wine as the elements to be used. Yes, he certainly gazed at the bread as he tore it that night and caught a harrowing glimpse of what the Romans would do to his flesh the next day; and as he peered down into the cup of wine he may have shuddered to think of his own blood which would be spilled. But the bread and wine are perfect choices:  commonly available, everyday stuff, not caviar or a single malt Scotch. Accessible, affordable, familiar.

As J.K.A. Smith pointed out, it’s not wheat and grapes on the table. Wheat and grapes have been made into bread and wine – so they are divine gifts that are also “the fruit of culture, the products of human making. In blessing the bread and giving thanks for it, Jesus not only hallows the stuff of the earth, but he also hallows the stuff of our hands.”

And there is a curious nuance to the human production of bread and wine: no individual grape can be spotted in a glass of wine, and no stalk of grain can be detected in a loaf of bread. The many become one. In the Lord’s Supper, there is a kind of lovely merging, an immersion in something larger. Individual grapes and stalks become wine and bread; we lonely people are not alone any more but find ourselves part of a grand union of multitudes in Christ’s very own body.

Worship matters – for at the Lord’s table we discover our hunger for God and fellowship with other people. More on the Lord’s Supper next time…

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