Thursday, February 21, 2013

Communal Cookies

Since coming home, I have had very few opportunities to lead worship. The last time I presided over Holy Communion was during my final chapel service in Afghanistan. While I have taken communion sporadically over these months, I have missed pronouncing an invitation to God’s table or placing an almost stale wafer into the palm of one who has come to be fed. After celebrating communion for an entire year, without it, I have felt a strange emptiness. I miss preaching, too, though I hate to admit it out loud. But, communion was always more meaningful to me, even than my best sermons. It had a way of dissolving our ranks, pushing aside our job performance reports, and removing all the other ways that the military scrutinizes its personnel for disciplinary purposes. For those moments, around the table, we were just ordinary people. We may claim to be family in Christ, but those were the moments when we realized it, sharing the same bread and wine, grateful to be fed another week.

Now that my worship responsibilities are infrequent and rarely, if ever, include communion, I find myself struggling with the ministry opportunities available during a typical day on the job. There are occasional moments of prayer. I do talk about God and faith. We have plenty of Bibles in our offices. But all of these things, what I imagine most of my colleagues who are pastors or priests in churches engage with throughout their days, are more peripheral foci in my daily work. Mostly, I spend my time listening to people. I hear the latest installments of drama which my soldiers and their spouses and children are living out each day. News about the ultrasound or the childcare near disaster, an update on an ongoing marital tiff, or worry about the next move or the job that still hasn’t materialized-- this is the substance of my ministry. I have a revolving door. While this doesn’t help me think or write or produce anything of great value between the hours of 9-5, I know that it shouldn’t be any other way.

The theme this Lent at the local Presbyterian church where I am involved is centered on God’s table. This week in my small group we discussed the topic of “Eating together.” We were asked to tell a story of a meal which was meaningful to us. There was no right way to answer the question. Because I have an “in” with the pastor and helped write the discussion questions, I knew that eventually we would be looking at the connection between the sacrament of Holy Communion and all the other times that we break bread together. Most of my group regaled stories of family meals, Thanksgivings dinners of years gone by. I had a few similar stories myself, but I wanted to think more broadly. As I pondered a special meal, what came to mind were the hundreds of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies that I have given out over the past 18 months, more than most Girl Scouts have ever attempted to sell over an entire scouting career. Often cookies have gotten my foot in the door. Remembering whether a soldier’s favorite cookie was the Thin Mint or the Samoa was an easy but still noticeable way to show interest and care. We all know the way to the heart is through the stomach. Maybe this is what Jesus considered when he took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

As a minister who has the privilege of giving the sacraments, I have deep reverence for Holy Communion. Yet, I am reminded in this particular season that it is possible to experience God’s presence every time we break bread with another person, each time a crumb or a morsel crosses our lips. Sharing a Girl Scout cookie can be a profoundly sacred act when we remember all that God has done and is still doing in our midst. As we chew and swallow, as we commune together around the table, we realize that God is giving us all that we really need to continue on our journeys of faith. With hearts open and hands turned out, we reach for the true gift of life, nourishment which sustains us far further than calories can count. 

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