In Chapter 5 of Liturgy of the Ordinary, author Tish Harrison Warren reminds us that Jesus instituted the tradition of Communion with his command to the disciples: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Do what? Eat a tiny fragment of hard, tasteless bread, drink a few drops of grape juice, and bow your head in reverent silence? Hardly a way to commemorate the most important person in the universe. Even on Fathers Day we have a barbecue, and Dad didn’t save anyone’s soul.
We—well, I—picture Jesus, the man, as a bit of a hippie. Long hair, first-century hygiene, no permanent home. But these aspects of his appearance raised not one eyebrow in first century Judea. In fact, his followers described him as a man of fine stature. His detractors, however, called him a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:34). Jesus got this reputation by taking his meals with anyone and everyone. “Tax collectors and sinners!” Everyone knew him for his eating habits. But how many verses in the Bible mention his favorite foods? Oddly, we know all about whom he shared meals with, but barely anything about his preferred diet.
In our hurried modern life, we tend to think of a meal as a time to refuel. We try to get sufficient nourishment to get to the next pit stop, without overdoing it too much. If we get to share the meal with a friend or family, we appreciate their company, but the food takes priority. Not so in ancient times, or even in modern times for many cultures around the world, where the companionship takes first priority and nourishment is a side benefit. Even our language reflects that social aspect: the words “company” and “companion” derive from the Latin com (with) and panis (bread).
I often eat lunches alone. I sometimes choose to go to lunch with co-workers, but usually I just want to grab something quick, check Facebook, and get back to work. Such meals satisfy my physical need for nourishment, but admittedly they do not satisfy my need for companionship. Once in a while, I get to meet up with a friend and share a meal, and the shared meal is . . . well, more vibrant. The pad thai tastes tangier, the sweet and sour sauce is sweeter and sourer, and the iced coffee is colder. It makes my whole day richer for having shared the time.
Jesus called for us to remember his gift of life through the ritual of a meal. What better way to remember Jesus, the man? The guy was a foodie, not because of the food but because of the people. To Jesus, a meal was a sacred and integral part of his ministry: a daily way to connect with the people who needed him.
Our sacrament of Communion is symbolic, reminding us four times each year of the sacrifice Jesus made. The unleavened bread and wine hearken back to the Exodus, and the reverent silence has its place. But Tish reminds us that every day, we can celebrate a sacred meal, just as Christ did.
A sacred meal isn’t simply bread and beverage so that you can get back to work. A sacred meal is a time to form and reinforce social bonds; do this in remembrance of him. A sacred meal is a time to laugh together, and ask questions together, and lament together; do this in remembrance of him. A sacred meal is when we know each other better, and worship together our companion Creator; do this in remembrance of him, every day.
Come join a discussion on chapters 4 & 5 of the book tomorrow (Mar 3) at 10:30am in Journey Sabbath School, located in the Ministry Center classroom across from the church office.