What is Communion?

Dali Last Supper

Salvador Dali’s The Last Supper, National Gallery of Art

Today marks the six-month anniversary of my friend Wayne’s death.  My family will gather with his wife, his son, his mother, and a circle of close friends to place the marker and remember what Wayne meant to each of us.

My husbands’ parents are buried in the same cemetery, one where the gravestones are all at ground level for ease of grounds-keeping.  Rich and poor, black and white, Christian and atheist—all become anonymous and equal to everyone except those they’ve left to mourn them in this suburban cemetery.

After our remembrance, we will break bread together at Mary Beth’s home.  Both masterful cooks, Mary Beth and Wayne prepared every recipe with energy and creativity and served the meal to their family and friends with equal measures of love and merriment.  Both adhered to the principle that their guests should walk away satiated and carry home enough for another meal.

Their style of cooking was very different from my own.  If we had four people to dinner, we made four steaks and four baked potatoes.  Not so in the Waits-Whigham home, where leftover steak became the protein Mary Beth ate for breakfast the next morning.  While I always followed a recipe the first time and varied it only on the second try, I watched them pour spices into their cupped hands and sprinkle it with a shake of the hand that looked like a gambler readying to roll the dice.

But the gamble never resulted in a bad meal tossed onto the table.  On the other hand, Wayne never let me live down the time we were on vacation and I made white-bean chicken chili that tasted nothing like the chili made by the person who gave me the recipe.  It was the only time in 20 years of friendship that Wayne stood up from the table and strode to the refrigerator in search of something else with the pronouncement, “I ain’t eatin’ that sh#@!”

I secretly agreed with him, but there was no way I was going to let him know it.  I ate the chili.  So did everyone else at the table, including our two very picky-eater children and their friends.  At the end of that meal, my husband, who doesn’t like to cook but doesn’t at all mind the clean-up, headed to the dishwasher without his usual compliments to the cook.

Usually, though, Wayne smacked his lips and pulled away from my table with satisfaction.  Over the years, no matter which of us cooked, the guest would bring some specialty that was a favorite of the host.  And though Wayne usually turned down dessert in favor of the main course, he often came away from the table saying, “Man, for some white girls, you sure can cook!”

I’ve missed those meals.  In our grief, we haven’t been able to bring ourselves to get together in quite the same way.

Though Wayne wouldn’t want to admit it, Mary Beth and his son Chris can probably replicate most of his recipes.  In fact, when she was on vacation a month or so ago, Mary Beth made Wayne’s famous barbecue sauce, giving it just a bit sweeter flavor than he liked to make.

And, Wayne, it’s delicious.  You’d be proud of her, as you always were.

As I’ve looked forward to our meal together this evening, I’ve come to understand that this is what communion means.  Too often, we think of communion as that small piece of bread we dip into the wine at church.  We enjoy the ritual, but we think little of what it means to commune with people who in their humanness may have let each other down or hurt each other’s feelings since the last meal we shared together.

We are so different, those of us who will break bread together today.  And it is precisely those differences that make the family we’ve created so wonderful.  We will gather in our friends’ home to laugh and cry, to eat and drink, to offer grace and share our love.

As I picture Wayne looking down at us today, I’ll be thinking about him sitting at God’s communion table and talking animatedly, hardly giving any of those other disciples a chance to get a word in.  He’ll tell the story of that chicken chili, but he’ll also brag about the wife and son he loves and the diverse friendships he has temporarily left behind.

So I’ll treasure the joyful eating and drinking and fellowship.  As we say in the Apostle’s Creed, we’ll celebrate the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  And I’ll understand that this is what Christ really meant when he told the people at his last table, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

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