Several years ago I was part of a mission trip to New Orleans, where we helped with the rebuilding effort in the Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. A few Northern Indiana area churches drove down together, and we stayed at a mission station with another, larger group from Tennessee. The different churches rotated through some of the housekeeping activities: cleaning the bathrooms, preparing meals, doing laundry, and evening worship. Worship always involved communion, so the meal shoppers made sure bread was available.
Even the best schedules can fall apart, and one day the worship team members (all youth) were stuck at a work site an hour longer than they had planned. As the lasagna finished baking, they quickly pulled together a short but meaningful order of worship and selected some hymns. While we were cleaning up after the meal, a whisper traveled from table to table: there had been a mix-up, and all the bread had been basted in garlic and butter for the meal. There was no time to run to the Winn-Dixie before worship. What to do?
One of the young people suggested using the garlic bread. “Hey, Jesus used what was on the table,” he said. So that was what they did. Now in the Disciples of Christ we often distribute communion by intinction, which means the person takes bread and then dips it into the cup before eating it. At youth camp they call it rip-and-dip, or chunk-and-dunk.
As it turns out, garlic bread dipped in grape juice is less than appetizing. Not terrible, but weird and mildly unpleasant. Not things one generally associates with communion. No one said anything at the time, but as the evening wore on, several people began to grumble about how “disrespectful” it had been for the worship group to use garlic bread. One of the adults decided they needed to have a “talk” with the youth about how inappropriate their selection had been. As he offered his opinion, the kids looked deflated and started to apologize until one of the pastors interrupted him. “Excuse me,” she said, “these kids worked really hard today to make sure someone could get back in their home as early as possible. Not everything has to be someone’s fault. The communion wasn’t ideal, but perhaps we should focus on why we’re all here. And make sure we have bread for tomorrow.”
We have this idea that the holy should be pretty and palatable. But the sweaty work those kids did that day was holy. The stink they gave off because they decided to use their limited time to plan worship instead of showering … was holy. When we commune, all we can ever bring is what’s available to us. Some of us have the luxury of buying new whatever we need, and others find the holy in what is on the table, because God has provided it. When we say: “what you have to bring isn’t up to snuff,” what we are really saying is: “I refuse to see the holy in you.”
I’ll take weird garlicky communion that’s offered in love, over bland chunks that confuse respectability for holiness, every time. When we come to Christ’s table, we bring our holy and unholy selves. Maybe some of us do a better job of keeping the holy out front where everyone can see it, but that’s just window dressing. When we don’t like what someone brings to the table, that’s not a challenge to change them – it’s a challenge to change ourselves. And if meeting the needs of a community means we sometimes taste and smell bad … perhaps we should focus on why we’re all here. And make sure we have bread for tomorrow.
May the Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.