[published in Purpose: Stories of Faith and Promise, 43.10 (October 2010), 28.]
I learned of an encouraging story about communion from an encouraging book—Take This Bread by Sara Miles. Miles grew up an atheist. She cared deeply for justice in the world, devoting years of her life to working for it in Central America.
One Sunday she found herself attending an Episcopalian worship service. Miles went simply to watch, not even sure what had drawn her to attend. Then in the middle of the service, when the priest announced, “Jesus invites everyone to his table,” she found herself caught up in the movement forward and took the bread and wine. And she kept going back, week after week.
In time, she accepted that she had become a Christian. Then an opportunity arose for her to begin a food pantry at this church.
Miles links these two experiences inextricably together. Jesus’ table symbolized by the communion service at Sunday worship complements Jesus’ table symbolized by sharing with hungry people at Friday food pantry. Both express God’s welcome: to all who hunger for spiritual wholeness and to all who simply hunger for food.
Communion can symbolize God’s mercy, God’s empowerment for peacemaking. Our practice of communion continues in the line of the biblical practices of keeping the Sabbath. Jesus gave us definitive guidance when he asserted that human beings are not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for human beings.
The purpose of the Sabbath from the start was to serve human wellbeing, not to be ritual that works as an end in itself. Sabbath observance began, according to the story, as a political statement: the Hebrews were free from slavery. After their liberation, they were to live as free people. To symbolize this freedom, they were to keep the Sabbath—a time for rest, communal fellowship, and worship of God. The on-going practice of Sabbath observance meant to remind the people of God’s mercy and of God’s radical transformation of their social lives.
We may say the same thing about communion. Certainly for Christians, as well as for Jews, the radical memory of God’s liberation in the exodus and creating the community of God’s people as a light to the nations remains central. Complementing the memory of the exodus, Christians also point to the liberation effected by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—liberation memorialized in the communion service.
That is, communion serves peace.