Category Archives: Eucharist

Reflection and Hymn: Vine and Branches

“I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me, and I in you, you will be fruitful.“—John 15:5

Jesus calls himself the vine and his disciples branches that bear fruit. The Church has always heard a reference to Communion in this saying, especially to the cup we bless. 

From ancient times, the cup has stood for the lifeblood of Jesus circulating through the church’s vine and branches like nourishing sap, uniting Teacher and disciples in one common life, generative and strong, a holy communion. 

But the metaphor of vine and branches is not just about communion with Jesus and each other. It’s also about communion with nature. To belong to the One who took our flesh, and to belong to all our human neighbors, is also to belong to the earth. Earth and heaven are not opposites, and the more entwined we are in each other, the healthier and more fruitful we become.

It’s not for nothing that every Christian ritual of inclusion, acceptance, pardon, peace, and nourishment requires us to touch the things of earth and to let them touch us. In Baptism, it’s water and, in some parts of the Church, salt, oil, and beeswax. For healing, anointing oil. In Communion, it’s wheat and grape. For worship, flame and flower. Through these earthy things the grace of loving Pesence materializes. By these earthy things we learn how precious and loved we are, in body as well as soul. 

We are not the only stewards of God’s creation. The earth cares for us as much as we care for the earth. It’s an irreplaceable gift to our whole selves, mediating divine healing and peace to every part. Without these gifts, we would never know the sight, taste, smell, sound, and touch of the invisble God. 

We owe earth care not just because it’s in our self-interest, although it surely is, and so we must; but also because she is the beloved medium of God’s self-showing, the indispensable partner of God’s adoring attention to us, the one who reveals the Holy One to our senses, in beauty, in nourishment, in joy.

When We Eat Bread, We Eat the Soil and Sun

10.10.10.10

Words: Mary Luti

Tune: SHELDONIAN

Alternate tunes: CLIFF TOWN, CHILSWELL


When we eat bread, we eat the soil and sun,

the quiet winter rest, the surge of spring;   

we eat the summer’s heat, the cloud and rain,

and every breeze that makes the meadows sing.


When we drink wine, we drink the soil and sun,

the tendril’s climbing curl, the pruning’s grief;

we drink the blue, the dusky purple, and the pale,

the swelling cluster and the shady leaf.


When we receive Communion’s wine and bread,

the Earth enfolds us as her very own;

we eat and drink the Life that gives us life; 

by every sense is Love Eternal known.


When we eat sun and soil and drink the vine,

and praise you, God, for Earth and all its care,

may awe and reverence ripen in these hands

we lend to her protection and repair.

_______

For SHELDONIAN, see https://hymnary.org/tune/sheldonian_taylor

Reflection and Hymn: Medicine of Heaven

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I tell you, the bread of God is that which comes from heaven and gives life to the world… Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.’”—John 6:32-34, 51 (NRSV)

Jesus Mafa, The Lord’s Supper

Early Christians thought Jesus was talking about Holy Communion here. Of course, at this point Jesus didn’t know what Communion is—he hadn’t given us that gift yet. But our forebears heard that meaning in Jesus’ words anyway.

They’d come to experience Christ’s Body as truly life-giving and even spoke of Communion as medicine for what ails us. They believed that partaking of the Bread shored up and mended our frail human condition. To approach Communion was to be diagnosed, admitted, treated, and released to a new regimen of health, body, mind, and soul.

Regularly partaking also vaccinated you against the estrangement that destroys human solidarity. Being in communion with the Healer and all our convalescing siblings in the church staved off deadly infections like a divided heart, moral indifference, and an evasive life.

Communion was also a foretaste of the permanent health of the life to come. Exactly what such a fully wholesome life would be like, no one knew, but it had to be at least something like Communion— the beloved as one in the Beloved, feasting.

But the most important thing was how you knew the medicine was taking. The proof lay in service. The church’s body was healing when it found itself caring about and tending the bodies of others. It could claim health only when it was putting its own body on the line.

Which is why examining the life we lead in our bodies has traditionally preceded Communion. It’s a wellness check, and if it shows we’ve been indifferent or hostile to our neighbors’ bodies, we know we need to come to the table again. And again, to eat the Bread that heals us go and do otherwise.

BREAD OF LIFE FROM HEAVEN’S HAND

Words: Mary Luti

Tune: DISTLER (TRUMPETS)

Bread of Life from heaven’s hand,

nurse our pain and sorrow.

Pardon for our aching past,

healing for tomorrow.

Bread of Life from heaven’s hand,

brace our weak condition.

Keep us from all sin and harm,

guardian, physician.

 

 

Bread of Life from heaven’s hand,

fill our friendless longing.

Seat us at your table home, 

feed us with belonging.

Bread of Life from heaven’s hand,

end of all our fasting,

life as it was meant to be:

wholeness everlasting.

 

 

Bread of Life from heaven’s hand,

in the body find us.

Towel and basin at our feet,

neighbor love, remind us.

Bread of Life from heaven’s hand,

bond of flesh revealing

countless wounds to kiss and mend

with you, Jesus, kneeling.

_____

For DISTLER, see https://hymnary.org/search?qu=distler

“Weary of All Trumpeting”

Evangelical Lutheran Hymnal, No.428

The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 442

Reflection and Hymn: The Most Delicious Bread

“It is written, ‘God gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Then Jesus said, ‘I am the bread…’”—John 6:31-35

During a class on the sacraments, a student, Carol, told this story: After a snowstorm, only a few folks who lived within trudging distance made it to church, including Carol and her daughter, Melanie, who was four. The service was simple, a hymn, scripture, Communion. 

Melanie had never received Communion, but she was there, and no one was stopping her, so she held out her hand. With everybody else in the reverent circle, she ate. Then she broke the hush: 

“Mommy!” she cried, “This is the most deliciousbread!”

Adults overthink everything. Especially Communion. We divide into theological camps over it. We exclude people deemed morally, denominationally, doctrinally unfit. We bar little children until they’re capable of abstraction. We understand everything about bread except that you’re meant to eat it. 

But Melanie tasted what we forget—before all else, communion is food, delectable Presence, Jesus’ sweet surrendered self. It is the most delicious Bread. 

You don’t need to be grown-up or confirmed to know that something tastes good; to savor a grace of exceptional flavor; to sense that this is a mercy and no ordinary thing; to be surprised at it, grateful; to cry out, delighted. You need only be there, extending your hand. You need only eat.

And so, by the way, if communion isn’t delicious in your church, if it’s gummy Wonder white or sawdust gluten-free, why not replace it with something less disagreeable? It’s hard to believe you’re at heaven’s feast when the meal tastes like cardboard and glue. When choosing an edible sign that Christ is truly with us, always go for flavor. Do not disappoint Melanie. 

And don’t disappoint the world that needs us, who eat the bread, to be more than a thin starchy presence for the hunger of bodies and souls. That needs us, who drink the cup, to spill out onto its thirst a love more generous than a thimble cup. That needs us, who have known the meal’s delight, to be delicious.

 

THE MOST DELICIOUS BREAD

Words: Mary Luti                  

Tune: FOREST GREEN

 

O Christ, you knead your love for us

in most delicious bread,

with milk and honey, yeast and salt,

the tastes of heaven wed;

and even little ones enjoy

the flavor of your wheat

and join the circle of your guests

at mercy’s welcome seat.

 

 

Communion’s mystery is deep,

there’s much to learn and teach,

but knowledge cannot satisfy

and theories cannot reach

the cravings of a hungry heart

for most delicious bread,

the warm and fragrant gift of you

at heaven’s lavish spread.

 

 

Make us, like you, a honeyed loaf

to answer hunger’s cry.

The hope of people everywhere

knead us to satisfy.

No ordinary gift we’ll give,

as justly all are fed,

but pure delight, uncommon love:

the most delicious bread.

 

Alternate tunes: SALVATION, FIDUCIA (Robinson), KINGSFOLD

‘Do This’ [Luke 22:7-23]

dark bread on white

The night of the last supper, all was not well among Jesus’ disciples. Everyone was on edge. They all saw the handwriting on the wall—soldiers and swords, crosses and nails. One of them had already sold Jesus to the authorities. And Peter was boasting he’d be brave and follow Jesus, even if it meant certain death. Every time he said it, eyes rolled. It was Peter, after all. But they were all off kilter, scared and queasy. None of them felt much like eating.

The Bible says Jesus was aware of their fear and confusion. He loved them. He knew their hearts were in the right place, but he also knew he’d end up alone. They were so frail.

As was he. He would have given anything to escape what was coming, and in prayer he begged God that it might pass him by. The Bible says fear ran down his face like drops of bloody sweat. He had seen crucifixions. He could imagine his.

The only difference between Jesus and his disciples was that when the time came, he didn’t run. But that doesn’t mean he welcomed his fate. He didn’t feel much like eating either.

But that’s what they did. On the night Jesus was betrayed, they shared a meal. They gathered at a table. Because that’s what they’d always done. A large part of their three years together was spent at tables.

In Jesus’ ministry, the table was where things got real—eating together, they began to understand that God’s love for them was full of mercy, no matter who they were or what they’d done. There they were, saint and sinner, rich and poor, all welcome to eat.

The table was where truth got told—Jesus would tell you stories about invited guests who were too important and preoccupied to come to a king’s banquet, so the riff-raff took their places, going into the kingdom ahead of the privileged and powerful. And so the last are first.

The table was where the vision of Jesus’ movement got spelled out in object lessons of service and humility. Jesus on his knees with a towel around his waist, dragging a bowl of water from foot to foot, washing his disciples clean. ‘Servants,’ he told them at that table, ‘are not greater than their master. What I have done for you, now do for each other.’

The table was where pardon was given—to a sinful woman who could not stop bathing Jesus’ feet with her tears, to an odious little tax collector who’d climbed down from a sycamore tree to welcome Jesus to a meal in his home.

At table with Jesus it somehow felt possible for hard things to get better, and lost things to be found. At table with him, you could imagine a time when you would be able to forgive just about anything.

And so that queasy night they ate with him. And while they were at table, he took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body broken for you.’

The bread, his broken body. A sign of broken dreams, broken promises, broken hearts. A sign of mercy and presence to show us that in things that break, God is there.

‘Take, eat, all of you. Here is frailty made blessing,’ he said. ‘For you.’

And after the supper was over, he took a cup, blessed it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Take, drink, all of you. This cup is a new covenant in my blood, poured out for you for the pardon of sins.’ Medicine for what ails you. And a covenant, a promise that we can begin again. And we will.

’Take, drink, all of you. Healing and the dawn of a new day,’ he said. ‘For you.’

And then he said to them, ‘Do this.’

Do this. To remember me.

Do this, and I am with you.

Do this when you’re broken. Do this when you sin. Do this when you get sinned against. Do this when you’re afraid. Do this when you just can’t believe the way hard things have dropped into your life uninvited. Do this when you disagree and fear you won’t find common cause or a clear way forward. Do this when you want good company, when you don’t want to be alone. Do this when you’re joyous and want to multiply your joys. Do this when you’re grateful and want to taste again the goodness of the Lord who’s been so good to you.

Do this. Come to the table. Sit down. Eat and drink.

And so on that awful night they did.

Now, if I were making this story up, I’d tell you that after eating with Jesus, all the disciples got up from the table, repentant, converted, faithful and brave. I’d tell you they were loyal, loving Jesus and each other with a love that could withstand anything. I’d report that they didn’t abandon him, but were with him to the end.

But ‘m not making this up.  And that meal didn’t make the weak strong, or cowards brave. It didn’t give Peter a personality transplant or any of them more wisdom than they had when they first sat down, which was pretty much zero. They shared with Jesus a meal of love and memory; a meal whose heavenly food and intimate company was all they should’ve needed to find a faith nothing could shake. But it wasn’t. They went out that night and failed him, and he went to his death alone.

After Jesus rose from the dead, they ate together again. At Emmaus he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them, just as he did that last supper. And just as on that night, they were still who they were—betrayers, deniers, deserters, willing spirits with weak flesh.

In Galilee, he grilled fish and bread for them, and they ate breakfast in the cool dawn air by the lake. And just as on that last night, he fed Peter, who had sworn just two days before that he did not know and had never met his tender Lord. The table isn’t magic. But it is necessary. We have to eat. Jesus knows we always have to eat.

Jesus and his disciples ate together many times after his rising. And after he ascended to heaven, they keep on eating with him in the Spirit, in the church, in a holy communion.

For two thousand years Jesus has been eating and drinking with disciples like us whose hearts are in the right place but whose lives are still kind of a mess. Two thousand years of ‘doing this,’ and we’re still suffering the small cuts and deep gashes of our human frailty. It hurts. The damage is real. There’s no denying the pain or evading the consequences. And still he comes to us. Still he says, ‘Sit down. Eat and drink. You, just as you are. You, just as I find you. Come. Do this. Do it again.’

What matters to him, it seems, is what’s real. What matters is that we are who we are. That we don’t hide our wounds in the dark where no light can reach them for healing. What matters to him is not that we have the right answers or the right opinions, or even the best behaviors, but that we do this. That we come to the table, come together, come as we are, and do it again and again and again.

It might take us another two thousand years to fully grasp the table’s lessons, two thousand more to perceive the table’s truths, two thousand more to be transfixed by its mercy, transformed by its grace, caught up in its dynamics of self-gift and resurrecting love. But he is patient.

And in the end—who knows?—it may be that becoming perfect, or even becoming ‘better persons,’ isn’t the most important thing. Maybe just being together is. Maybe just eating and drinking is. Maybe just the fact that he is with us is enough. All he asks is that we don’t stay away because of our weaknesses, and that we don’t prevent others from coming because of theirs. ‘Do this,’ is all he says, ‘even when you don’t feel much like eating.’

Anchor your hearts here, he commands us. In bread and cup. At a table. And so we do. For as long as we meet here again and again, as long as we are together giving thanks for the amazing grace that so willingly embraces the poverty and beauty of our hearts, as long as we are sharing the meal of life, all will be well, even when it isn’t, he is so kind.

So come to the table today, lay it all out, everything you have—your emotions and questions, your strengths and weaknesses, your beauty and your struggle, your joy and praise and thanksgiving. Here with each other and with him, in the embrace of the Holy Spirit, you will taste and believe again, like never before, the trustworthy Word of the Lord—that as many times as we stumble, we’ll be helped up; as many times as we fail, we’ll learn and grow; whenever we sin, we’ll be pardoned; when we’re sinned against, we’ll find a way to offer pardon; when we’re full of joy, our joys will multiply. And when we die, we’ll rise.

Do this, our Brother said.

Sit down. Eat. Remember me.

Do this.

I am with you always.

Do this.

Again and again.

Until I come.

Medicine of Eternal Life: Reflections on the Healing Properties of Holy Communion

183496_159820980825930_243873873_nEarly Christian writers sometimes spoke of holy communion as “the medicine of eternal life.”  Calling communion “medicine” implied a human condition that required powerful treatment — nothing less than the application of the presence of the risen Christ to the brokenness of the community, to the fragments of its soul. Communion was Christ’s kiss upon our wounds — an outward sign of the permanent offer of reconciliation with God and all creation: medicine of mercy, medicine of abundant life. To approach communion was to be diagnosed, admitted, treated and released to a new regimen of wholeness and health.

This way of speaking also implied a kind of preventative therapy: communion with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit at the center of the church’s common life inoculated believers against the disintegration and estrangement that always threaten to destroy human hearts. Being in communion with the Healer and with all the convalescing companions built up one’s resistance to evil and warded off the infections of a divided heart, moral error and a superficial or evasive life. To be excommunicated, or  “excommunioned,” then, was to be in mortal danger, fully exposed.

“Medicine of eternal life” was also a way to describe a future: by participating in the eating and drinking, Christians were promised not only a measure of healing and wholeness in their present lives, but also perfect and permanent health in the life with God to come. To be in good health, to have been saved, meant to have been drawn into a great mystery, to be living on tip-toe, as Paul put it, towards health as yet completely unknown, not even imaginable. Yet in communion, the church understood itself to be privy to a fleeting glimpse of this future: whatever that wondrous wholesomeness will be, it will be at least something like this — the beloved as one in the Beloved, feasting.

To think of communion as medicine of eternal life could strike us as magical, superstitious, or fraudulent—Christian snake oil for needy psyches, trembling bodies, and suggestible hearts. And it would be so, were it not for its intractable attachment to the reality of flesh. Early Christian teachers understood, wisely I think, that one arrives at wholeness and right belief not via secret knowledge nor philosophical constructs, not via a private moment of illumination nor by some doctrinal bee you get in your bonnet. One is in possession of truth and salvation most truly when one encounters the body. That meant “in the church,” and most especially, in the daily hum-drum rub of service and love, tending to bodies, the neighbor’s and the world’s: in imitatio Christi, a body on the line.

Thus, examining the life Christians lead in their own bodies and their conduct toward other bodies has always preceded the reception of communion. Such a prelude brought home to the conscience the inherent contradiction of drawing near to the table of embodiment in Christ while indifferent or hostile or disembodied with regard to the neighbor. Healing, like all authentic Christian religious experience, has its final proof in a dispensation of love enfleshed in the tangible service of the least — When I was hungry, you fed me.