Tag Archives: communion

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.”

Can We Coexist?

Dali Last Supper

Salvador Dali, The Last Supper, National Gallery of Art

Early in our relationship, my husband and I attended a Catholic service together for the first time.  I don’t remember now whether it was a baptism, a First Communion, a wedding, or a funeral.  What I do remember was that when it was time to go forward for communion, my husband remained seated beside me, and following his lead, I remained seated as well.  I understood that I wasn’t supposed to share the bread and wine, but I had never really considered whether or not he would take communion.

We married in a Presbyterian church, and we became members of that church, following my choice of faith traditions and never turning away from communion together.  I gave little thought to the faith of his childhood until after that service, when I asked him why he did not take the sacrament.  Despite the fact that he had not been to confession in all the time I’d known him, that was not the focus of his answer.  He told me that he had no interest in taking communion in a church that denied communion to me.

I told my sister-in-law that I didn’t understand why, when Christ didn’t even deny communion to Judas, the Catholic Church would deny it to me.  A devout Catholic and one of the people I most respect and love in the world, she explained her faith’s belief in transubstantiation—that the bread and wine really become the blood and body of Christ.  While Protestants believe in the bread and wine as symbols, to Catholics, to take communion without confession is to desecrate the body of Christ.  She encouraged me to go forward for a blessing from the priest, wanting me to be included in something that meant so much to her.

Like most families, we accept and respect each other’s beliefs because we know each other’s hearts and care deeply for one another.  What I’ve learned over the years of our marriage is that my husband differs with the faith of his childhood on much more than their denial of communion to those of other faiths.  But unlike many people I know who’ve converted to other faiths, he harbors no anger at the Church.  He has simply made a decision to seek God in a way that makes more sense to him.

And so both of us were surprised to learn that, on Wednesday, Pope Francis had quite an unusual take on the story in the Gospel of Mark where the disciples complain to Jesus that someone who is not one of his disciples is casting out demons in his name.  Pope Francis says this of that story:

[The disciples] complain, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him,” he says, “let him do good.” The disciples were a little intolerant, closed off by the idea of possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth cannot do good.”  This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.  The root of this possibility of doing good—that we all have—is in creation.  The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. “But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.” Yes, he can.  The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! “Father, the atheists?” Even the atheists. Everyone! We must meet one another doing good. “But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!” But do good: we will meet one another there.

The pope’s message filled me with hope.  I don’t expect that humans will ever all agree on the nature and existence of God.  But I do believe that there are many, many of us who believe in coexisting—in finding what’s best in each other and accepting each other’s right to believe as we believe.  But those of us who truly believe in religious freedom tend to be a quiet lot.

Because we believe in peace rather than in conflict, we aren’t the people who are given air time by the media.  Goodness and light don’t sell newsprint or garner high television ratings.  Conflict does.  And so we hear from the loudest, angriest, and most vocal—whether they’re Christian or Muslim, agnostic or atheist.  Those voices will continue to rage as long as those of us who believe that we can come together to do good stay quiet.

I know you’re out there.  I can tell from the stats on my blog every time one of you reads a post like this for the first time and then within an hour reads every other blog like it that I’ve posted.

So let’s stop being quiet.  No matter what your beliefs, tell your stories of good meeting good.  We have the power.  And the world has never needed us more.