I was at work yesterday, standing at a cash register, chatting with customers as I scanned and bagged their groceries. I am new there, and there are like two hundred and fifty employees, so I am always introducing myself to another unfamiliar face. I’d seen the guy on the register behind me before, but I couldn’t remember if we’d officially met, so I started chatting, trying to remember if anything sounded familiar, if I’d already had the intro exchange before. I asked where he was from and he said “Tennessee”. Nope, didn’t remember that one. “Really? Where?” A little town called Dayton, he said. “No way, I went to school really near there in Cleveland,” I said. “Did you go to Lee?” he asked. And then the conversation took off, well as much as is possible between the dozens of customers we both assisted over the next two hours. We compared assignments for the day, discovered we had the same lunch break, and agreed to eat together.
When “lunch” time arrived, we reconvened in the break room. He’d already managed to eat his food by the time mine finished heating, but he sat there and answered questions, told me about the adventures he and his wife are soon to be embarking on, compared social notes on our shared acquaintances. When I was done with my microwaved quesadilla, I offered him some chocolate covered edamame. We munched a few and chatted more. It was easy to get a little personal because, well, I get personal with everyone, but also because we had enough shared background to make those details more naturally accessible. We were in the middle of the break room though, with people reading newspapers and chatting about the weather around us. And since I am in the rawest shape I have ever been, I asked if he wanted to take a walk upstairs for the remaining minutes. Sure, he said. We ended up in a hallway corner near the greeting cards, just after the frozen breakfast foods, and as soon as we stopped there, I started leaking tears everywhere. I hadn’t meant to pour out my heart, but frankly, my heart is so freaking full these days, that any amount of semi-private (or not) conversation finds me leaking tears and breathing deeply. He stood there listening to me with the same thoughtful look that my little brother does when we talk. It was just a few minutes, but it was a real moment. For me anyway. Before we headed to punch back in, he gave me a brotherly hug and told me he was glad we’d gotten to talk. I was grateful too. So grateful.
* * *
I was in the bathroom getting showered and ready this morning, and for some reason I was thinking about Communion. You know, “The Lord’s Supper”. I am always wondering about this guy, Jesus. There is so much lore, so much mythology, so much doctrine and dogma and tradition and discussion and debate… But once upon a time, this guy walked around, hung out, ate dinner with his friends. So whenever I think about him, I wonder what he was thinking, what he doing when he did what he did and said what he said.
I was thinking about him picking up a cup of wine and offering it to his companions, a piece of bread, and passing it down the table. “Whenever you do this, do it in remembrance of me.”
Was he really starting some whole new ritual leading to hundreds of years of dogma and debate, of little girls in poofy white dresses and patten leather shoes genuflecting before taking a wafer and a sip for the first time, of tiny plastic cups in circular tiered trays providing partakers with a small swig of juice… Really?
Its hard for me to see this guy, trekking around the countryside with “no place to rest his head”, touching and being touched by the filthiest of people, taking time for little kids, cussing at religious control freaks, sneaking off in the middle of the night just to catch his breath and ask for strength to keep on loving and holding and healing the madness that is all our shared humanity… Its hard for me to think of him instigating a whole new ritual that leads to little wafers and disposable cups, or golden chalices and gleaming plates, or even hand torn bits of whole wheat bread passed in a circle amongst friends.
It’s so much easier for me to see him picking up whatever glass was set before him, whatever bread happened to be their meal, and saying, “Whenever you do this, remember me.” And its so much easier for me to wrap my mind around the fact that whether he explained further, the point was — not “here is a new ritual to start doing all the time, and here’s how to do it…” — but “whenever you sit down to a meal together, drinking your drinks and eating your eats, and sharing your lives, remember me, because that is when I am present. You won’t always see me like you do now, but whenever you take time to sit and share and open your hearts to one another, that is when you will experience me and what I came to do. Reconcile you. Heal you. Show you that Emmanuel, God with Us, is this right here: chowing down and chatting. This is where Eternal Life is manifest. In the union of open hearts and open hands over shared resources and nourishment.”
If that is what he meant, I just “took communion” in the Trader Joe’s break room last night. That microwaved quesadilla lead me to the tears of brokenness that are the cross I bear right now. Those chocolate edamame allowed a sacred emergence of Emmanuel.
So maybe we don’t have to wait til the fourth Sunday of the month, or whenever they do it at the local parish. But maybe at the pub tonight, over a pint and bowl of peanuts, the Body and Blood will break and drip for one and all.