Hear our voice, O Lord, according to your faithful love.
Robert Mapplethorpe. Parrot Tulips (detail). 1988.
Being a community that truly shares bread
Let me end with a story which, for me, sums all this up. Some 24 years ago I was in Turin, in Italy, sharing Communion with a small group of Catholic Christians living on a run-down estate in the poorest part of town. They met weekly in an apartment to read the Bible and to reflect on their involvements in the work place and in social action. Always they shared bread and wine to remember Jesus' death at the hands of the powers-that-be, and to anticipate with celebration the solidarity of his risen life.
It was, in most respects, a standard Catholic Mass patterned on the Western Rite, though with prayers and words of their own, too. Significantly, the bread and the wine were blessed by everyone together, not a priest apart. There was also an urgency about it all. These people didn't need God's presence tomorrow, they needed it now.
Then something amazing happened. Right at the end, in Anglican and Catholic Communions, a priest will gather up the remaining bread and wine and consume it, to make sure nothing profane happens to it. It has always struck me as a little obscene that one person, representing the church as a whole, should gobble up the remaining Bread of Life while many in the world starve.
But, thankfully, that didn't happen in this community. Quietly, while we were still praying, olive bread and pizza, tomatoes and fruits, more wine and all kinds of other food began to appear on the Lord's table, which was at the same time a lunch table. And the bread and wine that had been our sacred meal suddenly became part of a huge Feast to which everyone was invited.
These Christians went ringing on the doorbells of all their neighbours with the good news. Free food, come and share! And if you want, bring some more to add to the feast. Needless to say, we were there all afternoon. And it was one of the most moving events of my life. The way they put it was that "life flows into the Eucharist and the Eucharist flows into life". And that's just how it felt. This is the kingdom. This is Communion. And it makes all the difference in the world.
So as Christians we gather to share the bread of life. And here is a humbling thought. However you understand that piece of wheat as it is pressed into your hands, there is a true sense in which what is happening is that Christ is voluntarily putting himself at your disposal. In the act of Communion, God, the alpha and omega, is choosing to be dependent upon us, deeply fallible human beings.
This may only be half the truth, but it is true nevertheless. And it dignifies us beyond belief. The question is, what we will do with Christ and the bread he gives us. Will we share it, will we hoard it, will we waste it or will we let it rise up in us to transformation? The decision, says God, is ours. But know that I will always go on giving life. Simon Barrow. "Being Consumed Again by Love," in Fear or Freedom: Why a Warring Church Must Change. (London: Ekklesia, 2008), pp. 117-123.
Eric Whitacre. Water Night. Mogens Dahl Chamber at the Church of Holmen, Denmark.
We end our week with Mogens Dahl Chamber Choir with Water Night by the American composer Eric Whitacre. The text of Water Night is by Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz and it portrays the darkness of night as a quiet river that overflows and fills the soul with peaceful obscurity.
May God our Redeemer show us compassion and love. Amen.