One of my earliest memories of church is my aunt’s United Church on Bowen Island. She had sponsored my family to come over from South Africa. We were living in the rectory (that’s the house the church loaned out for ministers). It was us three kids and my parents, and my aunt and her two teenage boys. After the service each Sunday, there would be a call out for anyone who wanted to come and finish the bread and grape juice from communion. Now, the bread that was served was no ordinary bread. It was baked fresh: homestyle, full of carbs. And the grape juice was served from a carton---Welch’s own.
We’d race to the kitchen to be the first to eat up the bread and drink up the juice, and our hearts and our bellies were full. Imagine my surprise when, some years later, I was 10 or 11, a friend invited me to her dad’s Anglican parish. After church, a member of the Altar Guild came over.
“Wouldn’t you like to finish the bread from communion?” she asked us.
I didn’t remember seeing a fluffy white loaf on the altar, but maybe they had one stashed away in the kitchen? So away we went, and, there in the sacristy, this tiny room at the back of St Stephen’s Church, there Mrs Hayes handed us little round wafers, two at a time, like it was Christmas. Wafers. Bone-dry. Tasted every bit like cardboard. And before you ask, the wine from communion was poured out in the garden. (Or at least that’s what the adults told us).
I have since come to appreciate the wafers that are part of the Anglican tradition, as well as the fresh loaves that are used more and more in Anglican churches today. There is deep symbolism in both. In receiving a wafer, a piece of unleavened bread: the idea that once we have received communion it’s what’s in our hearts that does or doesn’t provide leaven for our journey. “It is from within, after all” Jesus reminds the Pharisees in our gospel reading, “It’s what’s in the human heart that matters.”
There is symbolism also in receiving communion from a loaf of bread: the idea that we receive Christ’s body as bread that has risen; the reminder that we are called to be resurrection people. We have hope that death does not get the last word. “Welcome with meekness the implanted word” the writer advises in the Letter of James. “Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has power [that has leaven] to save your souls.”
Taking communion, receiving bread for the journey, this is serious business. I reckon this is why my auntie on Bowen and Mrs Hayes at St Stephen’s, entrusted the task of finishing the bread to children. These grown up Christians knew that they couldn’t risk any of the bread going to waste.
I wonder what you think about when you come up for communion? I wonder what were your early experiences of church?
I remember a sermon from Dr Martin Brokenleg, an Indigenous priest, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. He compared his early experiences of communion to potlatch. Potlatch, a gift-giving feast where a whole host of things can happen: the honouring of marriages, divorces, deaths; the transfer of physical and intellectual property; adoptions. There is music, dancing, singing, storytelling, speeches. Thinking about the Eucharist, thinking about communion as potlatch, this is where people come and receive food for the journey---wherever you may be on your journey---this is where you come. What a remarkable vision.
To conclude my sermon this morning I want to touch briefly on our reading from the Song of Songs. “Arise my love, my fair one, and come away.” This line, once at the beginning and again at the end. In the context of the Christian Eucharist, I wonder if these words function as an invitation to communion. Like bread that rises when it’s baking, like people gathering for potlatch, so also God calls us at the Eucharist to “arise . . . and come away”!
The context of Song of Songs is two teenagers in love. The speaker compares their love to the beauty of the land. Their love is like that feeling you get when the winter is past and the flowers start to come up. It’s the surprise of coming across a family of elk. It’s your stomach jumping into your heart---leaping up like a gazelle---when you think about somebody who loves you---romantic or otherwise. The love described here is as beautiful as the natural world and there is no higher praise.
When you receive communion today, I wonder what God is calling to rise up in you? Where are you in your journey? What do you bring with you to the table this morning? God calls all of us, every one, to “arise . . . and come away.” So come, let us now ready our hearts.