Psalm 146

1 Kings 17:8-16

When I say “Communion,” what is the first word or idea that comes into your mind? Today’s bulletin cover has the Presbyterian symbol with a fish highlighted (inside the dove). This is a symbol of Communion’s importance in our tradition. Communion is supposed to be important, at any rate, but we have a great history of changing Communion so it doesn’t quite line up with our ideals. So I wonder, how important is it to you? Is this extra piece of the service on the first Sunday of the month extra special or just drudgery? Would you miss it if we didn’t do it?

I’d miss it. Given my preferences, we’d celebrate it every week. I dig community ritual, as we know, and this is a great ritual. What’s important about it to me is the physical act of taking in Christ’s life, serving and being served, and sharing this sacred moment. Lately, I find myself looking around at you all during Communion, letting my eyes connect what the crumbs and cups don’t. I let myself feel the connection with Christ’s people throughout history, the idea that we eat at the same table as Paul, Peter, John, and Jesus. Ceremony or no, I want to really “celebrate” Communion, this thing we call “the joyful feast of the people of God.” I want this to be something to smile about.

Recently, Protestantism has wrapped Communion in different images, most of which make the sacrament feel like a funeral. I think the solemnity is supposed to remind us that this event is “special.” That’s sort of like a man whose wife died, so he stuffed his favorite wedding photo into his sock drawer because it was too special to keep out where he might lose or damage it. He didn’t throw it out, but he never used or enjoyed it either. He kept it hidden because it was too special to risk facing its specialness. That’s our argument for just having Communion once a month, isn’t it? We want to keep it from becoming perfunctory, but I worry we’ve made it into an add-on part of the service. I suspect we’re mostly hiding from a sense of “popery.” We try to remind ourselves that we worship with preaching and thinking, not with ritual. Or – this is probably more likely – we can’t stand spending so much time at church each week. So, what if we re-proportioned the service to make room?

What would it take to make Communion real celebration each week? How would we do the prayer, share the elements, and so on? One thing would be needful: making room for it in the timing of our service (or our lunch plans, but who am I kidding?). Making room is about letting Communion be important. I notice that I already think it is. If you said “no” when I asked if this matters, your mileage will vary. We discover Communion’s importance in living the sacrament, practicing it with joy and celebration, and sharing in real life like we do around this table. We find the meaning when we live out our ideals.

Living out his ideals is how Elijah found the Sidonian woman in the reading from Kings. He is led by God to find her, and she’s led by her values to respond. Hospitality was a basic virtue of Ancient Near Eastern societies: If someone approaches you, you have to receive them. The author of Kings is actually telling the tale of two Sidonian women here. One Jezebel, the queen of Israel, and the other is this widow in Zarephath. It’s a classic pattern. The one responsible for the life of nation worships Baal and has people killed to take their land, while this foreigner on the margins puts her trust in the Lord and lives righteously, even with the last of her bread. This is at least partly a story about trusting in God, not human powers, as Psalm 146 puts it. Trust in God who provides for orphans and widows.

Elijah is putting himself in bad company here, namely religious leaders who eat from the shortage of widows. Jesus’ contemporary priests did it, and so do some of today’s televangelists. They talk about God’s desire to provide all we need, then use that promise (or is it a threat) to demand money. The true prophets have much to say about that! But Elijah came with God’s promise of sufficiency. While others trade on people’s fear. the prophet says, “do not fear.” The sufficiency this widow receives is nothing extravagant. God promises enough, not overwhelmingly much. Fear seeks to meet shortage with excess, because if you’re afraid of your lack, only too much feels like enough. Faith, however, meets life with an eye on enough. Don’t fear, because God will provide enough (but maybe no more than that).

The fish in our denomination’s symbol connects God’s sufficiency with Communion, because John’s gospel connects them too when it tells of the feeding of the 5,000. It recalls the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, with the message that there is always enough grace. Grace multiplies what we have into a great excess, even an extravagance. But this extravagance isn’t there from the beginning. At the beginning, there are only five loaves and two fish; a bit of flour and some oil; a cube of bread and a shot of grape juice. God’s abundance shows up in the doing. God chooses to act within our reality, to live within our action.

The Sacraments are very important in our tradition. They’re one unit with the Word read and preached. Just imagine if that were the case in real life, not just in our ideals. Imagine if we celebrated this “joyful feast” each Sunday. What would we learn? How would we live? Of course, how would it fit in the service? But seriously, what if we re-proportioned the service to reflect this priority? It’s not that preaching is not important, but living the Word is more so. The Sacrament is the Word brought (back) to life. Doing this ritual make the Good News not just a bunch of ideas in our head. We’re acting it out. We’re symbolically (which is to say really) doing what we’re about. So I pray that you’ll feel that depth again today, and that we’ll all learn more about sharing, receiving grace, and joining Christ and all people in God’s abundance.