By Melissa Tidwell, MDiv ’15
Sometimes during a communion service I feel like a guest at a bad dinner party. It’s all so tame and tidy, the polite little crumbs of bread participants allow themselves, the ushers monitoring the number of bodies allowed near the table. We call this a feast? In my version of a feast, the bread is delicious, and abundant, and the guests are enthusiastically urged to take more. Lauren Winner asks the same question in her new book, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God.
Winner thinks of the wide creativity and abundance of God and wonders why we don’t celebrate that at the table with biscuits, injera, panettone, or chocolate zucchini loaf. Then, Winner turns the tables on herself— and on me—by appreciating the smallness of the wafer in her Episcopal church, saying, “I believe by regularly proclaiming that God’s abundance can be found in something small, we are gradually retooling our understandings of what is truly necessary for life.”
I think Winner may be onto something there. Many churches struggle with the resources to find teachers, fund mission, or maintain drafty old buildings. We feel too small to tackle big social problems or too old to reinvent ourselves. But maybe we can retool ourselves to celebrate the way God comes to us in small, weak, and vulnerable forms. The abundant life is so often found in small places: in a pot of basil on a windowsill or in friends having coffee. In the amazement that hummingbirds can actually fly. Watching children roll in the grass with a puppy. In the way some faithful friends have managed to show that even in the diminishment of death there is a wide place where grace abounds.
Still, a more lively and creative communion feast calls to my soul. I had a glimpse of it once, when Clifton Presbyterian Church celebrated an anniversary of our ministry with homeless persons. Clifton was a small church that offered food and shelter to thirty men, every night, year-round. I didn’t know at the time how big that was—and maybe that’s how we were able to pull it off. The church itself never had more than 50 members, but we had enough space, after the pews had been taken out of the sanctuary, to house our guests. Neighbor churches came with dinners, helped build showers, and offered all kinds of essential and much needed assistance.
When we celebrated our tenth anniversary in a special worship service, we invited those partner churches to send representatives with a loaf of bread, and in the call to communion we asked each church to come forward, presenting their gifts. And just as they had always responded to the ministry’s needs with imagination and big-hearted generosity, these dear saints came to the table in the same way, some with homemade loaves that expressed their hands-on abilities, and some with big perfect bakery-made items, the best they could buy.
The bread just kept coming that day. We ran out of room to stack it on the small communion table, and began placing the overflow on the edges of the pulpit. And naturally we served the leftover bread in a big lunch afterward, to much joy and pleasure. That sense of overwhelming bounty was the perfect “loaves and fishes” expression of how that ministry was able, then and now, to embody the love of God in ways that were practical and deeply spiritual.
I hope to bring some of that abundance into communion tables I will serve, to offer a taste of cornbread and naan and foccacia as the bread of life and to see folks break off a healthy bite as they taste and see that the Lord is good. But I will also be carrying Lauren Winner’s insight with me now, that the small taste is also a way to open the door to the certainty of God’s enough. As I gather at communion tables or night shelters or barbecues this summer, I will be on the lookout for the way abundance is revealed in small wonders.
Melissa Tidwell is a recent graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary. Her sermon, “There is a River,” chosen for the 2015 Creation Care award, will appear in the fall issue of The Journal for Preachers.
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Photo by Beccasull from Wikimedia Commons.