Communion in a Fast-Food World’

Posted: August 10, 2021 in Uncategorized

‘Communion in a Fast-Food World’

“Once upon a time, somewhere far back in ancient human history
– so far back that personal survival was the only concern –
a defining event must have taken place.
Someone didn’t eat what he found when he found it,
but decided to take it back to the cave to share with others.
There must have been a first time.
A first act of community – call it communion –
in the most elemental form” (Fulghum 1995:79).

I haven’t read Robert Fulghum’s writings but Rex Hunt of whom I quote often has high regard for his writing and today’s story comes from Rex’s musings on Fuighum and Brazillian Rubem Alves writing along with a bit of my thinking.

In another story Fulghum’s writes, “When my first son was in kindergarten, I was a parent volunteer who visited the school once a week to teach folk songs to the children.
Singing came between rest-time and snack-time. Regularly I was invited to stay after singing
and join the class for milk and scones. I gladly stayed. Not because I was particularly hungry, but because I enjoyed watching the children carry out this ordinary task with such extraordinary care.

Two children set the table with serviettes and cups. Two others arranged the chairs. Others went to the refrigerator for cartons of milk, while two more fetched the scones from the kitchen
and arranged them neatly on plates. One child was responsible for placing something in the middle of the table to talk about during the snack – a sort of ‘show and tell’. For half the class, their job for the day was being good ‘guests’. The other half were the ‘hosts. Each ‘host’ took a scone off the plate, broke it in half, and gave it to a ‘guest’ before eating the other half. During this snack-time, they discussed the ‘show and tell’ object in the centre of the table. After the scones and milk were consumed, the children who had played ‘guests’ for the day cleaned up and put away everything, before they went out to play. It was a high-point of my week.  For me, it was communion.

Fulghum then goes on to add some comments… He says: The sacraments are often defined by the church as ‘outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace’. Scones and milk with those children became a sacrament for me. Grace, was clearly present. It was a ritual reminder that civilization depends on sharing resources in a just and humane fashion. It’s strange how things come back in that this story reminded me of my dissertation when finishing my degree in Theology. I was sent a copy on my retirement from the church library. I think it was my copy that I had left in St David’s when I retired.

What was significant was that on reading it again I am aware that for me Fulghum’s story was the same as my dissertation. The sacrament was in the ordinary, in the commonplace and in the very living of life. I argued that God is in the Garage, my previous job was as a motor mechanic and that what I was engaged in was holy work and that the elements I worked with were the elements of communion.

They were the common elements that conveyed the sacred. Somewhere between transubstantiation and symbol. The wheel cylinder was the bread, and the brake fluid was the wine as in their use they tended to the needs of the people in the vehicle. In their use as well as their state they activated the safety of the occupants and cared for them. They were the common cup and the sacrament. I know this was then as difficult a theology as it is now. I nearly didn’t get my licensing approved by my Presbytery because it was too radical, too unorthodox and it was only with the support of my professor and my colleagues that I am here today. But enough about me it is the theology of bread as John tries to talk about it that is our topic. We continue the theme of the bread of life in the lectionary.

Jesus often talked about, or is represented as talking about, food. And as he moved from place to place, the various storytellers declared he would seek rest in a house. Rumour has it once there he would make his way to the cooking space because there, he knew he could find food to transform his weariness into new energy and purpose. For it is the cooking space – the kitchen – which is the place of transformations.

As we touched on last week in the lectionary Rubem Alves. suggests that in the cooking space “Nothing is allowed to remain the same.  Things come in raw, as nature produced them.  And they go out different, according to the demands of pleasure.” (Alves 1990:79).

The raw must cease to exist for something different to appear. “The hard must be softened.  Smells and tastes which were dormant inside are forced to come out: cooking is a magic kiss which wakes up sleeping pleasures…  Everything is a new creature.  Everything is made anew.” (Alves 1990:79).

I want you to think about the possibility that Jesus might have been talking about fast food when he talked about food. Was he suggesting that fast food is a problem? Not just in its nutritional value but in its symbol of the sacred. Was it about Slow food rather than fast food?

And remember that the gospel storytellers often put words in the mouth of Jesus to have him speak about food and eating. About Bread and wine. Body and blood. And remember that Jesus was no literalist. Religious language was primarily metaphorical or poetic. In other words, Jesus spoke so words would be eaten. When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour. We are what we eat, suggests Rubem Alves. “One eats and one’s body is resurrected.” (Alves 1990:86).

Robert Fulghum suggests milk and scones at kindergarten snack-time is communion. Is grace enacted. “Since the beginning of time,” Fulghum writes, “people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship… (Pg. 81). “Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together.” (Pg. 81-82). 

I suggest that every time we handle the elements of our daily work and walk-through life we celebrate the incarnation, we celebrate the gift of grace and we enact the sacraments that remind us of the efficacy of grace in our living community. God in the Garage, God in the classroom, God in the kitchen, the garden etc. etc.

Traditionally, this morning’s gospel story from John has been given strong sacrament overtones. Holy Communion or Eucharist overtones, that is. If that is indeed the case then it very much reflects John’s community many years after the life of Jesus. Remember the other week when John is warning his community not to become too literalized. The total truth is not in just the literal but rather in the metaphorical, the symbolic and the de-concretized. Fulghum reminds us that when things were getting organised and rules, the dos and don’ts – are being put in place we need to be careful of literalism. He says; Whatever the sacrament of Holy Communion is, “it is an act that arises out of our humanity, not organized religion.” (Fulghum 1995: 82).

So maybe next time we partake in the celebration of holy communion or Eucharist, or Agape meal we might remember that it is our common and shared humanity that we celebrate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. It is not something special in itself, or in its literalism but rather a ritual reminder that, as we share the bread and share the wine, civilization depends on the sharing of resources in a just and humane fashion. The metaphor, the poetic and the musical truth is the timeless and integrated reality.

To close, I want to remind you of two quotes that I think undergird the interpretation I am offering you today. The first is our quote for today from Gordon Kaufman where he writes “In interpreting the world, in all its diversity, grandeur, and richness, as the expression of serendipitous creativity at every point, we put into place the first building block of a conception of God for today”.

And the second is when he writes: “The real test of the validity and significance of a configuration of theological proposals is to be found in the success with which their methods and patterns of interpretation help mediate the meaning of Christian faith for the ongoing lives of persons and communities, non-Christian as we as Christian”. Bread as an act of community, bread as community, bread as community life? In the kitchen space, in the play room, in the workplace.

Amen.

Notes:
Alves, R. A. The Poet, The Warrior, The Prophet. The Edward Cadbury Lectures.  Philadelphia. Trinity Press International, 1990
Fulghum, R. From Beginning to End. The Rituals of our Lives. Oxford. Ivy Books, 1995.

Gordon D Kaufman In Face of Mystery, A Constructive Theology Harvard Unity Press 1995

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