Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Story of Two Communions

This morning at church we heard reports from a team of 13 members about their recently completed mission trip to Ciudad Sandino/Nueva Vida, Nicaragua. Many of their stories involved difficult circumstances. They spoke of devastating effects of a hurricane on people already struggling to subsist on $2 per day. They spoke of coffee workers who slept (in the not-too-distant past)  in flimsy wooden structures half the size of the pews we were sitting on. They described inconsistent medical care and inadequate medical facilities.

Other stories were more hopeful. Stories of a community of coffee plantation workers, many of whom had fought against each other in the country's civil wars but who now worked together in harmony, recognizing that "war distorts relationships" and preferring to look toward the future rather than remain stuck in the past. Stories of an American nonprofit that provided small loans to Nicaraguans, giving them the opportunity to start their own business ventures and build sustainable careers. One team member, Jane, told of the deep human connections she felt with the Nicaraguans they worked with and worshiped with, in spite of their differences in skin color, language, and economic standing.


On the way home, I stopped by Burgerville to grab lunch to go. (I'm eating alone this week while my wife and daughter visit parents and grandparents in Arkansas.) Apparently lots of other folks in town had the same idea. Since the drive-through was backed up, I parked and went in to order, where I found the line at the cash registers was backed up as well.

After a few minutes, I had reached second place in line. A family of four--dad, mom, two elementary- school-aged children--was at the register in front of me. The mom and dad placed their orders fairly quickly, but I could tell it was taking awhile to get just the right orders for the kids. I noticed the delay, but it didn't really bother me. I wasn't in any particular hurry; plus, I was still thinking about the conditions in Central America.

I placed my order, took my plastic number, and waited near the soda machine. There was also a line there. A man was standing at the machine with several cups, retrieving drinks for his group. Behind him stood the family who had been in front of me in line a few moments ago at the register.

As the man put the lid on the last drink, he turned to the family waiting behind him and said, in a sarcastic tone:

"Oh, are you waiting? I'm sorry. Oh well, that's okay. I had to wait for 30 minutes while you built your burgers." He laughed and carried his drinks to his table.

The man's comment and tone bothered me. A lot. Not just because it was rude, which it was. Not just because it was untrue, which it was. (The family might have taken three minutes to order; it certainly did not take 30.)

It also disturbed me because the man making the insincere and sarcastic apology was white and the family who took some extra time to order was latino.

While I have no way of knowing this man's story or what's in his heart, this ethnic reality raised, at least for me, the possibility that what I had witnessed was something uglier and more serious than impatience and rudeness.

I should know better by now, but I couldn't help catching the eye of this man and giving him a brief look--a look any one of my family members could easily identify. That look of disapproval that says "you should be ashamed of yourself." I couldn't not do something. I couldn't ignore what I'd witnessed. I doubt it did any good.


This morning at church, in addition to the sharing of the folks who went to Nicaragua, we shared communion. I love the liturgy of the communion service at our church, especially its visual nature.

First, the pastor holds up a loaf of bread and breaks it in half, speaking words about the body of Christ. Then she talks about how Jesus shared the cup with his friends. As she speaks, she pours the juice from a large pitcher into two smaller cups. As she pours, she raises the pitcher away from the cup so the congregants can clearly see the liquid flowing into the cup. I don't know why this is so significant to me, but I notice it every time.

The pastor then speaks words along these lines: "This is a table of life and a table of love and a table of welcome. You are invited to this feast whether you come often or have not been in a long time. All are welcome at this table. Come to the feast. All is ready."


I want badly to live in a world where the hopeful events that happened in Nicaragua occur with frequency.

I want badly to live in a world where white and latino (and all people of color) welcome each other and work toward common goals.

I want badly to eat always at that table where all are welcome.

But I also know I live much of my life in the middle of a very different reality.

A world where I'm so used to having my every need met immediately that I can no longer wait. (Didn't Paul have something to say about this to the Corinthians who refused to wait on their working class brothers and sisters to break bread?)

A world where I'm afraid that those who look differently and speak differently than me will cost me money or take my job.

A world where I offer rejection rather than welcome and exclusion rather than inclusion.


As we rose from our pews this morning and walked forward to take a piece of bread and dip it in a cup, we sang these words, words I so badly want to be true, not someday, but now:

Eat of this bread, drink of this wine;
come and be fed, come now and dine.
Eat of this bread, drink of this wine;
here all are fed, here all may dine.