Our son Adam, his friend Laura and his girls will be over for an Easter meal this Sunday afternoon. Adam, who’s an excellent cook just like his brother David, will prepare the salad. He makes incredibly creative and tasty salads, one of which I actually have on a recipe card in my box under the title “Adam’s Easter Salad.” Like many families, I would guess, our holiday meals are at least semi-potluck affairs so the entire burden of the meal doesn’t fall on one person or household: Thanksgiving is a movable feast in our family, but Christmas is always at Adam’s and Easter is at our house. It also means that everyone who contributes to the meal is often bringing their specialty, something so good that people want to eat it again and a again.
One of the magazines I thumb through regularly has a feature which prints stories from readers about traditions, time-honored or in the making, which cause their holiday celebrations to be memorable. It’s fascinating to see how many of these traditions are group efforts: a mother and her grown daughters making Christmas cookies together year after year, grandchildren making decorations and setting the table for a festive meal, the men cleaning up after the festive meal…how good is that?!? I sometimes find myself feeling rather unimaginative as I read about these important bits of other people’s lives.
Several years ago I began a new “tradition” at the Church of the Advent in Hatboro where I was before I retired. I began incorporating a part of the Roman Catholic mass into our celebrations of the Eucharist. These incorporations came at the point just after our offerings of money were presented to God at the altar. In the past, before I made those additions to our worship, I would simply hold up the bread and the wine as we finished singing the doxology. I would do this to indicate that the bread and wine are part of the gifts which God has given us and which we offer back to God in gratitude. What I liked about these additions was how they focused on and kind of expanded the particular gift that the Eucharist is for us if we allow it.
I’m going to do that here tonight. In a few minutes, as I elevate the bread, I will say:
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to offer which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life.
Then I will elevate the chalice of wine and say:
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this wine to offer. Fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.
But just before that I will pour some water into the chalice of wine and say:
Through the mystery of this water and wine, may we share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
Hearing these words year after year as I went on retreat at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, I was drawn to incorporate them into celebrations at the Advent for a couple of reasons. One is that they make clear that bread and wine are indeed God’s gifts to us. The altar guild may keep an eye on our stocks of bread and wine and ask the parish administrator to order more from the makers and distributors who produce them when they get low, but all this “business” can happen only because of God’s initial generosity. The other reason is the lovely way the words express the interdependence of God, the “Lord God of all creation,” and the earth which produces the wheat and grows the grape vines which human beings will fashion into bread and ferment into wine.
In our highly compartmentalized culture, most of us are far removed from the production of food and drink. We mostly purchase what we eat and drink at markets and stores. And even when we “make something from scratch” we often begin with products that have already been processed in one way or another. The same is true of the bread and wine we use for communion. A few weeks ago the St. James’ Sunday School made the bread for communion, and it was presented at the altar by a young person representing all the children who actually made it. In that moment, the truth about our part, the part about “work of human hands,” was especially apparent. But most of the time, we must be intentional about remembering the connection, the collaboration between God the creator and the earth and human hands in creating this holy food and drink.
I also love the intentional way the mingling of wine representing the divine nature of Christ and water representing his human nature with words as well as actions remind us that in Jesus we are invited not only into a spiritual, but also an organic relationship with our God. In Christ, the holy and the ordinary, the divine and the earthly are knit together forever. And this bread and wine that we ingest week after week, harvest of the field and the vine by the grace of God and kneaded and crushed, baked and fermented by human hands…this bread and wine nourishes our spirits with the knowledge that we are both recipients of a profound gift, and also collaborators with the gift-giver.
Just as particular meals and celebrations from the past live on in our memories, binding us to those we love and reminding us who we are and where we come from, so too this meal binds us to God and all those in every generation and place who have approached the holy table to eat and drink, to be sustained and renewed. So let us with glad and grateful hearts this holy night draw nigh and take the Body of the Lord.