Most of us are weary of these lockdowns – I am. Even though I know that they are necessary in stopping the spread of this virus at times it feels like wading through mud; it’s about the loss of a freedom we previously took for granted. We are social beings, meant to live in community and we are more whole and healthy when we do. The Christian faith is all about living in communion with God and one another, and so when we are not able to physically gather together, or visit each other in our homes we know that something is missing from our lives.
When I was teaching in Fiji decades ago, I remember hearing about two Australian volunteers working in a remote region of Tonga where there were no shops, no telephones, no TV. In their isolation they sent away for Cordon Bleu cook books and began to teach themselves how to cook. I thought that was a very creative response to their isolation.
In the Bible hospitality and fellowship around food is particularly important. The story of Abraham entertaining angels at his tent under the oak trees at Mamre speaks not only of gracious desert hospitality but of how Abraham encounters the presence of God. The Passover meal Moses inaugurated with his people in Egypt is a meal that carries the nail-biting story of their escape to freedom, a freedom which they re-live each year as families gather around the dinner table in their best clothes to literally taste the excitement of that story and savour the freedom it carries. In the Last Supper where Jesus gathers his disciples in an upper room during the last week of his life, we find ourselves seated among them with Jesus offering us himself in bread and wine. It’s not just a meal. It’s not just a time to gather convivially around the dinner table in candle light with good friends; it’s more significantly about communion and knowing God’s presence and life within and among us.
I grew up in a tradition where communion was offered only four times a year. Because of that it was always a significant event, and generally very solemn. Over the years I have come to the firm conviction that we need to recover the pattern of the early church of celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s day as we do in the 8.30am service where Holy Communion is offered each week.
When I worked in the Abbey on Iona in Scotland we began our week on Sunday with Communion, and on Friday on the eve of our guests departure the following day, we gathered again for communion, this time seated around a long table set up down the central aisle of the Church. As an Abbey Guide, it was my job to set up the table, lit with candles. It was a more intimate service and one that came after a week of getting to know our guests. It often reminded me of the encounter around the table in the village of Emmaus where the two disciples discovered the stranger in their midst was indeed their risen Lord.
Many years later we were invited to join a ‘Eucharistic Fellowship’, which met once a month for a simple meal of soup and bread preceded by Holy Communion around the dinner table in each other’s homes. It was always a simple affair where everyone had a role to play. Someone brought bread, someone else the wine, another made the soup and another brought cheese. Also someone read the scriptures, another lead the prayers of intercession, another gave a theological reflection on the readings and another celebrated the Eucharist. We began with the Eucharist and then enjoyed the simple meal of bread, soup and cheese, all of which cemented warm and welcome friendships, bound together by the presence of the living God. Perhaps we need to recover patterns like this where we gather in small groups when the Covid restrictions allow, remembering that simplicity is key.
Our Gospel this Sunday continues our reading through John chapter six where Jesus speaks about himself as the bread of life; the living bread. John’s gospel begins with the invitation to us to “Come and see” and that invitation continues as Jesus speaks about himself as the Vine and we as the branches; the invitation is to abide in him, to find our lives, our hope, our freedom in Jesus and to know ourselves to be cherished, honoured, challenged and loved. Jesus’ words always carry the offer of life and freedom, the offer to ‘Come to me and I will give you rest.’