A reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
for October 2, 2016, World Communion Sunday
based on Luke 17:5-10
This passage from Luke composes the middle two parts of a section of four sayings of Jesus. Each of these sayings resembles proverbs – short saying that shares a truth to be considered. As proverbs, they are meant to be easily remembered but they are not intended to make sense right away: they are meant to provoke us to deep thinking. The first that we will hear has to do with the power of faith, while the second addresses the issue of status in the kingdom of God. Listen closely so that you may begin to probe their meaning, and so that you may remember these proverbs later in order to think more about them.
Imagine getting ready for a sumptuous banquet of the most delicious foods. Maybe you are waiting for Octoberfest, or waiting for thanksgiving dinner, or Christmas dinner, or a birthday celebration, or the recognition of an important anniversary.
Imagine the delightful scents of your favorite foods carried from the table by the steam rising from the dishes. From those scents you can also tell there will be some new foods for you to try. You can smell fresh bread; mashed potatoes and gravy; honey glazing meats; bratwurst on a grill – and yes, hamburgers and hot dogs too! – and sauerkraut and pickles and chili and fresh diced onions and coleslaw and jello salad and that green bean casserole made with canned cream of mushroom soup and French fried onions. You can pick out the zip of lemon zest spicing up some vegetables; cinnamon and marshmallows combined with the sugary goodness of sweet potatoes; the unmistakable smell of fresh pizza – you know that combination of tomato sauce with oregano and cheese that has been baked just enough so it leaves long strings as you lift it from the serving plate; and there – just on the edge of all the other scents – is the delightful smell of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
You are certain that you can also smell the ice tea that is waiting to quench your thirst, the tang of lemonade in the air the sweetness of fruit juices and it even feels like the fizz of your favorite soda pop is already tickling your nose.
Even as you are standing away from the serving tables, you can smell the deserts that are ready: a bit of nutmeg in some pies and hot berries in some other pies and warm caramel softly molding itself to apples and most definitely there is some chocolate.
Here you are waiting for this delicious banquet, standing here with a lot of people who are also hungry for this meal. In your imagination, look around at these people. You begin to notice that your best friends are here, some of whom you have not seen for a long time.
You see family members – yes, your parents, your brothers and sisters, your children, but also your uncles and aunts and cousins and great grandchildren and your grandparents and great grandparents and even your great great grandparents and their grandparents and you are certain that those children over there are your great great grandchildren, even though most of them have not yet been born.
You also see some people you know from history: Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, St. Patrick from Ireland, St. Nicholas from Turkey, Basil of Moscow, and some rough looking fisherman from Galilee.
And beyond them are people who somehow look familiar to you even though you know it is impossible for you to have met them in your lifetime – ordinary people who lived in places where you have never traveled, strange foreign places where you desired to go but never quite had the chance: Japan, Mozambique, Luxemburg, Burma, and even Iowa.
As you are waiting for this meal, you realize all the people of the earth are gathered here, and they are waiting too. Just like you, their mouths are watering and their stomachs growling as they smell their favorite foods: pierogis, curried lamb stew, goulash, kim-chi, several kinds of rice and beans with cumin and Tabasco and a hint of jalapeño, and shrimp on the barby with a vegemite sandwich.
Now see in your imagination that suddenly, without announcement, hors d’oeuvres are made ready for you. What kind of appetizer do you expect for this meal? Stuffed mushrooms? Wine and cheese? Hummus and pita bread? Carrots and celery cut into little sticks and set into a tray with some kind of sour cream dip. A variety of pretzels – pretzels sticks and mini-pretzels and Pennsylvania Dutch soft pretzels and hard sour dough pretzels and chocolate covered pretzels and pretzels with peanut butter or maybe pot-stickers, or tortilla chips and salsa, or spring rolls, or samosas, or tabbouleh?
But none of these appetizers are what is given to you at this banquet. Oh, they will be there, it’s just that they are not the appetizers. Here the appetizer is something very simple and very familiar: some wine and some grape juice accompanied with a bit of bread.
At communion, we are receiving the appetizers of the heavenly banquet – a banquet that will surely bring together everyone’s favorite foods as made by their favorite cooks and chefs, a banquet where all are welcome and no one goes hungry. A banquet where – unlike so many of our family meals – everyone will get along: the person next to you will not bump your elbow, where your favorite dishes will not run out, and where everyone has a joyous time.
It is also a banquet where there are no servants, for God has provided all and made it available. Gone are the days when some of us work hard in the kitchen while others sit and talk at the table. Gone are the days when some of us stay late to wash dishes, wipe down the tables, and take out the trash. Gone are the days when servants are necessary, for at this heavenly banquet all have accepted their role as servants for one another. Gone are the days when there needs to be a kids table or a seating plan to keep bickering rivals apart from one another or special tables for people who speak the same language – because at God’s banquet all people regardless of their age, race, or national identity will speak to one another with love and kindness in ways that transcend our human speech.
Communion is a foretaste of the banquet God has planned for when the reign of God is complete. It is meant to tickle our taste buds, to give us a vision of what it will be like when all of humanity is redeemed to God, gathering together without war, without prejudice, without division, without worry for who is going to pay the bill for this meal.
God has already paid for the big banquet that will happen when God’s reign is made full, and God has already paid for the appetizers that sit on our table here this morning. Since God has paid for them, we are invited to come and share in them and rejoice that all are invited to this table and welcomed into God’s presence.
This is the promise of God’s meal plan. This is the hope we celebrate each time we take communion. And since Jesus said “The Kingdom of God is among you,” we are called to create this vision of the fullness of God’s reign as much as possible here on Earth, using our earthly resources. Communion is intended a foretaste of the heavenly banquet; our church is a preview of the heavenly realm. This is a call to stewardship.