SEVEN SPIRITUAL PRACTICES: Sabbatical Reflections
# 3: Feasting (The Sacred Meal)
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
“Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia!”
– The Book of Common Prayer
[During my sabbatical I am reflecting on seven practices for spiritual growth, common to all three Abrahamic traditions. Jews, Christians and Muslims share these ancient practices, which are the basis for Brian McLaren’s book “Finding Our Way Again.”
I am asking everyone at the church I serve (and anyone else!) to read it this summer.
My first blog entries were about Sabbath and Prayer. This, the third, is about what McLaren calls “sacred meal,” what Christians call “Mass,” “Holy Eucharist” or “Holy Communion”- and what I would like to amplify a bit, calling it “Feasting.”]
Recently some friends asked my wife and me to join them at their home in Tennessee mountain country. Arriving there just after dark, we were not prepared for what awaited us in the morning. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” said poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, and few things are grander than mountains! They reminded me of Maryland’s beautiful Catoctins, but I had seldom felt perched so perfectly, lifted up for such a long, spectacular view. Being there was like being in church, for it was a sunrise service, and here was communion with God’s creation.
It wasn’t just my eyes that feasted. My ears were also filled, courtesy of nature’s musicians: some familiar songbirds joined by other birds with unknown, haunting songs, backed up by maturing cicadas, singing for the first time in thirteen years. In consort with the mountains they all became a heaven-on-earthly orchestra of sight and sound. Only the Divine Conductor could have arranged for such a symphony! I wanted to hold on to this feast, forever, but I knew I could only keep the feast for a precious moment.
When you and I are given a momentary delight, a real mountaintop experience of one kind or another, it is time for feasting. Taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8). Hear that tune, smell that coffee, touch that baby! We can’t keep a feast forever, but we must enjoy it, in this, its only moment.
Holy Scripture reminds us that we do not, we must not live by bread alone. Whether it is for the music or for the silence, for God’s Word or for our own words, we who call ourselves Christian come together, week by week, for a feast of Holy Communion. In this Eucharistic feast we share bread and wine, which becomes more for us than bread and wine alone. We receive spiritual food for our journey, a pilgrimage we share with Jesus and Mary, Moses and Miriam and all those who have gone before us – all those around us. It is, as Brian McLaren puts it, “the journey into we” (Finding Our Way Again, p. 100).
Wearied by our journey, we come to God’s table, hungry to eat what truly feeds our spirit. We come to God’s table, thirsty to drink from the deep well of God’s Spirit. We come, and we are reminded that this table is not our own, or even the table of the church, but the table of the Lord. Our Holy Communion is always with Jesus, who feeds us real food – even the bread of life and the cup of salvation. Jesus feeds us and then leads us, the pioneer who always goes before us, showing us how to be his disciples. We come, then, to the table, not just to remember Jesus but also to re-member Jesus, to actually become his disciples, in this time and place, right where we are. We keep the feast of Jesus, as we put the body of Christ back together again – one member, one person at a time.
Each person who walks in the door of your church can be a member of the body of Christ – if you allow them to join you. Each person, each member of the Body comes hungry and thirsty, looking for food and drink, ready to feast. Each person longs for the living God, seeking to keep the feast, even if for only a mini-mountaintop moment. The question is: Will we allow that person to become our “com-panion,” someone with whom we dare to share the bread of life? McLaren reminds us that the Abrahamic practice of feasting on a sacred meal is to be ”a celebration of hospitality…community…inclusion…reconciliation” (ibid, p. 26).
My prayer is that we truly see how God in Christ Jesus puts feasts in front of us, all the time. Even in tough times. Even when we are hard pressed to see a feast in what, for that moment, may look more like famine. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies… my cup runneth over” (Psalm 23, King James Version). Even when we feel assaulted, abandoned, alone, God in Christ is there, ready to share a feast for all our senses. Dare we believe this?
I write this from the room where I often study during this sabbatical time, where I often hear a solitary songbird. I hear her now! Right now is the time, the moment, perhaps the only moment we may have, to taste and see God’s gracious goodness once again. I say: Therefore, let us keep the feast. Alleuia! – Peace, Tom