October 1, 2017 (World Communion + Blessing of Deacons & Parish Nurses)
Church of Peace, UCC
Rev. Mariah Marlin-Warfield
I Corinthians 11:17-34
Who Else Is Hungry?
(third in the series Choosing Family)
If you are visiting Church of Peace this morning, you may have noticed from the bulletin that we will be celebrating communion. Know that you do not need to be a member of Church of Peace in order to share communion.
If you are not visiting Church of Peace this morning, I invite you to take a minute and imagine that you are. I know when I worship at other churches and see communion listed in the bulletin, I feel a twinge of anxiety. How is it going to work here? Will we go up front in groups or individually? Will we stay seated and pass the trays?
It’s one thing to wonder how another church does communion. It’s quite another thing to visit a church for the first time having never experienced communion before. Somebody visiting Church of Peace might wonder why some people are wearing purple robes. What is the meaning behind the formation of servers, and the nodding and bowing? Where does that come from and what is it for?
If someone is hearing the Words of Institution for the first time, it might be down right disturbing that a man is giving his broken body to his friends for them to eat! And yet, here you find yourself sitting next to people who are unfazed. They’ve heard this story a zillion times before.
Visitor or not. Church veteran or not. I think it’s fair to say that there’s something about communion that makes all of us a little nervous.
Communion is shimmering with holiness you can feel in this room. It’s not just the words or the music, the fragrance of the wine, or the solemnity of the occasion… Communion is putting ourselves right in the path of the glory of God. It is our acknowledgement that what happens at this table is human and more than human. Communion is our portal to the poetry of God.
No wonder communion might make us a little nervous. It’s no wonder communion is pulsing with this chronic question, “(Hey.) Are we doing this right?” O God, Are we doing this right, we pray.
So it would sure be helpful to hear some words of reassurance from Paul. Something like, “Don’t worry, church. Communion is a celebration of God’s grace. There is no way you can mess up God’s grace.” That would be a lovely letter for World Communion Sunday.
Instead, our scripture shows Paul practically shouting at the church: “You Corinthians are ruining communion! You’re doing it wrong!”
In his words, he says, “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper. One goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?” (1 Corinthians 11:20-22). Then Paul goes on to tell them, “Here is how to do it right…” And he gives the traditional Words of Institution we’ll share ourselves in a few minutes.
Look, I know, nobody needs to get yelled at by Paul. But if we can get past his shaming tone, he might actually be onto something. There is a problem with communion when the wealthy people get to arrive early and enjoy the meal; but when the people working two jobs have to come later, there is no food left for them. It’s like Paul is asking, how can we eat at Jesus’ table when, see, all these people are left out? You know where Christ is. Notice who else is hungry.
When I first came to Church of Peace, I will confess to you that I had mixed feelings about our practice of the deacons bringing communion to church members who are homebound. I wondered whether communion would interfere with a more relaxed, authentic visit —if it would make people feel anxious, if it would inadvertently reinforce the notion that taking communion is required in order to get into heaven. I believe that is not true. So I started out thinking, if people want communion, we should make it available to them, but we don’t need to be in the business of pushing it.
Well. In these past four and a half years of sharing communion with the deacons in people’s homes, I have learned something new.
First, communion in hospital rooms or living rooms is always somewhat strange and clumsy. Here you’re trying to say the Words of Institution, but there are just a few of you, so it’s one part friendly conversation and one part official words spoken by the church in all times and places. The communion kits are beautiful, but mine has a tube with little glass cups, and all of that is tricky to manage. Cups will get dropped. Juice will get spilled. The phone rings in the middle of the prayer, or the cat jumps up on the tray table to see what you’re doing. And none of this ruins the moment; instead the holiness of communion gets all over everything.
Something else I’ve learned from going with the deacons to bring communion is that sometimes people ask for it. Sometimes people say to me, “I just need to take communion.” And they don’t mean, “I need communion to qualify for heaven or renew my standing in the church.” They mean something else.
It’s like they are showing us something as tender as a scar, but instead of a scar it is a deep, homesick ache, a longing to put yourself in the path of the glory of God. Once they show this to me, I see I have it too. Whatever suffering we have endured in our lives, whatever we have been through, whatever conflict is still gnawing in our soul, here we have found ourselves in the same room sharing this same longing. Give me Jesus. O give me Jesus. You can have the whole wide world. But give me Jesus.
Because you know, a person can pray by themselves. You can experience the presence of Christ in your own mystical vision. You can get rescued by the angels in your own dreaming. You can sing the hymns by yourself in the kitchen and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. But nobody can give themselves communion.
Coming to this table becomes a rehearsal of our dependence on one another, a reminder of our deep ache for Christ. Now when someone says to any of us, “I just need to take communion,” you might hear yourself say, “Me too.”
Given this hunger, it might seem like taking communion would make everything better —that the Spirit would hearken our nostalgia to remembering the communion of years ago, that the taste of the wafer or the wine would answer this deep ache, at least for a minute. And maybe it will. Or maybe it won’t. But maybe there is something greater than our craving to feel better…
So we keep going out to look for the LORD, putting ourselves in the path of the glory of God, and time and again, the LORD says to the people, “If you’re looking for me, go look at the world.”
Instead of our hunger being satisfied, the LORD our God blesses this homesick ache and leaves it gaping.
Instead of feeling the warm glow of contentment while the organ plays, Jesus interrupts the sacrament and nudges us to look around. Now. Who else is hungry? What about anybody sitting back in the narthex? What about anybody sitting in that house across the street? What about Puerto Rico? Or Guantanamo? Or Syria. Or North Korea.
Friends, if you would go around and ask the people here, “What is the best thing about Church of Peace?” Again and again, the answer you’ll hear is “Family.” In some ways, we are a family made of families. A whole lot of us are biologically related to each other. In some ways, we are a church family for those who don’t have biological families. In some ways, it could be that people who visit Church of Peace feel like guests at somebody else’s family reunion.
In the scripture, Paul is dismayed that the communion table, which means to express Jesus’ generous welcome, is actually becoming a tool of division. The wealthy get to eat while the poor come after work and find nothing left. Or the insiders know what to do. We’re family, we’ve done this a zillion times! But the visitors who come might feel left out. Longtime members who come might feel left out. We so mean for this table to be a promise of welcome. And yet… We’re all still learning.
What gives me hope is seeing how communion at Church of Peace is becoming more than a personal moment; instead, our practice of communion is becoming a way of honoring what we have in common. Wealthy or broke. Early birds or late comers. Children or adults. Family members or strangers. It may be that all us human people are harboring that deep homesick ache for God, this longing to be transformed by God. This vulnerability is not our liability; it is our legitimacy. It’s what we have in common.
No longer will we have to ask, “Are we doing this right?” or “Will communion make me feel better?” We’ll become a people who keep asking, “Who else is hungry?”
Once we ask that, get ready. The world won’t stay the same. May it be so.