The mystery of the meal

Jesus said to do it and on any given Sunday, many do. They imagine that the person tearing the bread and raising the cup isn’t the one robed in black or white but Jesus.

Jesus said to do it and on any given Sunday, many do.

They imagine that the person tearing the bread and raising the cup isn’t the one robed in black or white but Jesus.

They imagine that the wafer or cube of bread and the sip of the fruit of the vine are his flesh and blood. And they imagine that what they are swallowing is not food but life.

The moment goes by many names; eucharist from a Greek word meaning thanksgiving, since Jesus gave thanks and Christians are to be just as thankful; mass from the Latin missa, a word of dismissal used at the end of the Latin service since it is over and Christians are to go back to the world where they belong.

It is also called Holy Communion since Christians believe that at this implausible table, they are communing with Jesus and each other.

All over this glorious and gloomy planet, the usual scattering of seniors and parents and bored teenagers, some with alacrity and some with apathy, get into the act.

The faithful members of the cathedral congregation who still make the trek downtown to fill a pew. The Missionaries of Charity who gathered in chapel for the mass that will strengthen them to go into the Calcutta streets and look for the dying. The church in Haiti who won’t start the service until everyone is there.

The country congregation in the white frame building who sit more or less patiently for the newly-ordained minister to race from the other church on the circuit and serve them.

And together they are joined by “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven,” if what the Prayer Book says is true.

Who’s in the company of heaven? God only knows but perhaps people we have known.

Aunts and parents and neighbours along with people we never knew. Francis of Assisi or Saint Augustine; Martin Luther or Martin Luther King.

All together, the company of earth and heaven will somehow commune.

If the specter of an H1N1 flue pandemic threatens, some may choose to skip such a meal.

Others such as the United Methodists, Presbyterians south of the border, and Evangelical Lutherans dine more often of late. Not quarterly, but weekly.

Some sup at an altar rail rather and some sit in their pew.

Many prefer intinction, in which you dip your bread into the cup and consume the soggy element.

There is disparity among Christians about what is happening at the table and who is welcome and what is the right way to serve the fare.

But World Wide Communion Sunday, celebrated this Sunday, is at least a partial witness to the fact that the spirit of Jesus can heat our blood and lift our heart the way wine and spirits can.

For some it’s only a moment’s peace. The closing benediction is the coloured flag to resume the race.

But reenacting the Last Supper in our imagination can help satisfy the incessant human cravings for both body and soul.

Bob Ripley is a syndicated columnist and Senior Minister at Metropolitan United Church in London, Ont.

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