While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Today Jesus asks the disciples for a bite to eat. Though they’re glad to see him, they’re not sure it’s really him. They knew him for dead. It’s only natural they struggle to believe he lives: risen from the dead. So he asks for something to eat, and they give him a bit of broiled fish. In this way, they share what they have with him, and he eats it. And in this way, they come to believe in the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. It’s another way of saying, he was known to them in the fellowship of eating. And also within the fellowship of friends.
This story follows the pattern of Holy Communion. There is the love offering of what God gives us. And given to Christ, it becomes nourishment for the Body of Christ. There is the Spirit itself sanctifying us and sending us out for holy work in the world. As an old Frenchman once said, Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell what you are. We eat Christ’s Body in order to be Christ’s Body.
The table fellowship of Holy Communion claims we are what we eat: we are the Body of Christ sent from his table to forgive others and to share our lives in his name. Tables always mean to tell us we’re here to share what we have, to pass the bowls along until everyone is fed. On the surface, Holy Communion seems easy enough.
There’s always enough to go around, right?
But get us out there, outside the walls of this church, and it can seem harder.
The table Jesus prepares is in the midst of your life: in here and out there, before you and those you love, and in the presence of your enemies. Holy Communion doesn’t end with a last prayer said at an Altar. It’s always happening: a way of living in the hope of friendship. By it, Jesus calls you to live your life as if it were, as indeed it is, made for the sharing. And here our own table practices have something to say to us.
To my mind, one of the few gifts offered up for the sharing on tables today is salsa. Bread baskets, too, only they’re easier to manage because you can take your own roll, and usually there’s enough for everybody to have at least one. But salsa takes negotiating. You have to share that one little bowl of sunlight flowering before you: tomatoes, cilantro, onion, peppers, lemon juice, salt. You have to leave enough for others. You have put up with people who get mad when you accidentally mix the queso in with the salsa or people who want to salt the chips without asking how you like them.
I know a child gets her own bowl of salsa when her family takes her out to eat at their favorite Mexican restaurant. In her words, “Everyone of us kids gets our own bowl of salsa. Daddy gets tired of us fighting over the one bowl. It’s easier on everybody if we don’t have to share.”
Who needs forgiveness when you can have your own bowl of salsa? And how will you ever learn how to share what you have when you have your own bowl of salsa?
Years ago I saw the movie Avalon by Barry Levinson. It has a lot to say about the lonely practice of your own bowl. It follows the story of three immigrant brothers who come to the port city of Baltimore from Russia in the early part of the 2Oth century. In the beginning they work together: hanging wallpaper by day, playing music by night, and then they marry and have their own families and start other businesses.
Thanksgiving Feasts hold them together for a while as they begin raising their own families. As their families grow, so does the Thanksgiving table, extending from one room into another. The privilege of carving the turkey always falls to the oldest brother. Eventually, though, it becomes harder to keep the feast, more headache than joy. And so the day comes when the oldest brother and his family are late to the feast. The others wait for a while, and naturally the children get restless and everybody’s hungry, so the youngest brother decides to go ahead and carve the turkey.
When the oldest brother finally arrives with his family, he discovers the feast began without him. He discovers somebody else carved the turkey, and leaves in anger. The wound is never reconciled. Their communion is broken. The film ends years later with one of their descendants having dinner with his family. They eat from TV trays watching television. A father, a mother, and their child, each with their own little table. And visible on the television screen is an image of a family gathered round a table to break bread.
The Church has its own sad stories of broken communion, of schism and quarrel, of everybody having their own bowl. It hurts to live in communion with others. You need things like forgiveness to manage it. And sympathy and will enough to share. But that’s what the Body of Christ asks of you. Sharing. Loving. Repenting. Forgiving.
The way we practice communion in church tells us what we are. (Or at least what we are made to be.) We are the gifts of God given for the people of God. We are the Body of Christ sent out to bless others who need our kindness. And remember: ours is often a lonely world, in need of people with heart enough to share their lives with others.