Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Eucharistic Bounty


Since the invitation included the line “picnic potluck,” I did not really know what to expect—or what to bring for that matter. This past Sunday, all of the churches in the Tennessee Valley were invited to gather at Monte Sano State Park for a shared Eucharist and meal. This “Mass on the Mountain” was an opportunity to get together with other churches in the area for worship and fellowship. Like many church gatherings, this event was a wonderful idea that was still being formed as the worshippers took their seats in the amphitheater. When the announcement about the meal was made, several of us looked at each other nervously.

Although I had interpreted the “picnic potluck” to mean that each of us was supposed to bring a picnic-type food to share with the whole gathering, the organizers suggested that an absence of any tables would make it easier for each to enjoy his own meal and share with others as needed. A quick mental recount of the dishes that made their way to Monte Sano in our car led me to believe that I would be eating bean salad and pecan bars for dinner—tasty but nutritionally deficient.

When the Eucharist was over, the group from our church migrated to a part of the amphitheater where we could spread out our offerings on a row of seats. In addition to bean salad and pecan bars, we had fried chicken and pimento cheese sandwiches (of course), rotisserie chicken, smoked chicken salad, fried fish, baked beans, corn pudding, chips, chocolate-coconut cupcakes, cookies of several varieties, and more. Each of us had brought beverages, and it seemed that our bounty was overflowing. Relieved that I had not dragged my family to a church event where our children would find nothing palatable to eat, I began to look forward to our meal…until someone asked about plates and cutlery.

I had assumed that there would be a central supply of those sorts of necessitates, and now my false assumption meant that we would be spooning heaps of food into our hands and eating out of them. But, sure enough, an ingenious person suggested that we tear the pieces of tin foil that had covered the various dishes into plate-sized pieces and use them to hold our food. Someone else noticed that we could use the wheat thins that were brought with the chicken salad to scoop up just about everything else that couldn’t be eaten directly with fingers. The next day, one of us recalled that, when she noticed how an infant seemed undeterred by this primitive style of dining, she decided to dig in. Before long, however, someone pulled out a spare bag of assorted plastic forks and spoons, which made eating baked beans a lot easier. And, then, as if out of nowhere, someone produced a stack of paper plates and napkins. Abundance and civility had found their way to our little shared picnic after all.

For me it was a real loaves-and-fishes moment. There was no miracle-worker among us, but Christ was very present in our midst. Out of almost nothing came more than enough. The laughs and smiles and craziness of it all warmed our hearts and drew us closer together. I found it strangely humorous that the Eucharist before the meal ended up being a less tangible expression of God’s bounty than the thrown-together picnic afterwards. Upon reflection, however, it seems to me that they go together seamlessly.

Breaking bread and sharing wine in the name of Jesus Christ is the primary expression of our unity. We are held together by the one who has given us this meal of remembrance, and the celebration of that feast is part of what unites us in his name. Even in ways of which we are unconscious, the gift of Eucharist binds us together. As I approached the altar with hands outstretched to receive the bread, I had no idea how God would show up later than evening, but I was able to recognize him when he did because I had shared in the body of Christ with everyone else.

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