“For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.”–1 Corinthians 11:21 (NRSV)
“And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”—Matthew 14:20 (NRSV)
Years ago, a faithful member of my congregation sidled up to me after Communion and cracked, “The service was great, but the portions were small.” I laughed. And then I didn’t.
So, let me ask, what’s up with equal-sized portions, little cubes of pre-cut bread, precisely measured thimblefuls of juice in identical, tiny cups? What’s up with strict Communion parity, exactly this much and no more for everyone, precisely the same?
You’d think we were on a group trip being served a set menu at a tourist trap instead of enjoying a homemade meal at the family table where you can eat as much as you want, according to your hunger, according to your delight.
St. Paul says that at the Lord’s Supper table no one should drink too much and get drunk, or eat too little and go hungry. But that doesn’t mean that everyone should be served exactly the same minimally calculated, pre-measured portions, which always tend to be small.
Now, to be sure, Jesus can convey his loving presence with us by any means at all, including one-inch square white bread cubes. His life will surely come to us even in shot glasses. And sometimes, like during a pandemic, we have no choice but to package him up in mass-produced, pre-proportioned containers, like a holy Keurig cup. It’s the necessary, safe, and prudent thing to do.
But when we have a choice?
When we have a choice, it might help to remember that Communion is a sign. Among other things, it discloses God’s generosity. It’s embodies God’s unrestrained impulse to feed, to feed abundantly and well, and to feed everyone without discrimination, holding nothing back. It enacts a divine justice that is not minimal, but maximal. With God, it’s not just enough for all, it’s always more.
If tiny elements are any indication of what we think justice is, the one who collected twelve baskets of leftovers after the crowds ate as much as they wanted might beg to differ.
Communities that get this will make sure there’s bread that looks and tastes like bread and flowing juice for all. There will be leftovers. They’ll gladly pass them around, too. Seconds and thirds for anyone who’s still hungry.
And we are always hungry. Everyone, so very hungry. Communities that get this will also give bread, wine, justice, and themselves away in the world, in very generous portions, with great service, and even greater joy.
O Christ of Boundless Treasures
Words: Mary Luti
Tunes: WEST MAIN, ANDÚJAR, WEDLOCK (American/Lovelace)
O Christ of boundless treasures
in prodigal display,
all reckless like a spendthrift,
you give yourself away.
Yet we who claim to follow
prefer our portions small;
our timid calculation:
one little size for all.
No miracle of feeding
we offer crowds bereft;
no baskets for collecting,
no loaves or fishes left.
Withholding all your plenty,
we measure to each one
too little for the justice
that’s begging to be done.
O Christ, in wasteful mercy,
come kindly and impart
in overflowing measure
the fullness of your heart;
then show us how to squander
the bread and wine of love,
with barely just enough.
For ANDÚJAR, see https://hymnary.org/tune/andujar_hurd
For WEDLOCK (American), see https://hymnary.org/tune/wedlock_american
For WEST MAIN, see https://hymnary.org/tune/west_main
Dear Mary, I was delighted to find your beautiful writings tonight. I was searching for a reflection in the UCC daily devotionals about Christmas and found it! How do I attain permission to print a liturgy or other resource for worship in our bulletin. The service is hybrid – both in person and on Zoom. I am filling in for Advent and Christmas as a pulpit supply pastor and would love to weave some of the words here into our Christmas Eve and Christmas services.
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Just lovely, Mary. You’ve cemented this notion in my soul — at Wrentham Developmental Center, communion was regularly cookies, cake, potato chips, fruit salad, and endless juice and water. Residents lacked all enthusiasm for more traditional elements.