What would it be like to have your sip of communion juice or wine be like that first wonderful sip of morning coffee? (And I obviously ask this rhetorical question as a coffee drinker!) Because it’s about so much more than just taste, isn’t it (as important as that taste is)? It’s the whole ethos of morning coffee, the grand personal meaningfulness in which coffee takes its place.
Elements of this significance include: a high level of anticipation balanced with the perception of need (which can, yes, border on addiction … or cross that border right into it!), the careful rituals of preparation (whether those include picking [literally, or as in choosing] and roasting your own beans, or just grinding and brewing [by whatever your preferred method], or by entering your favorite [or simply the most convenient] coffee shop).
The ethos of morning coffee has as much to do with closing your eyes and drinking in the scent and the warmth as the actual liquid. It has to do with gratefully savoring both taste and heat filling your mouth and sliding down your throat, but it’s also about the wider context. It has to do with rejuvenation—the sense of energy renewed. It has to do with feeling like you’re beginning a new day well and beginning it well in such a way as to be able to continue it well.
It’s a unique blend of experience, remembered experience and imagined experience. And so even as it’s coffee in the kitchen, it’s also coffee by a campfire, a steaming cup cradled in cold hands at a cold day’s dawning. It’s a solitary cup before anyone else is up, even as it’s coffee with those you love—accompaniment to conversation and relationship. It’s the memory of your parents drinking coffee in your own childhood even as your children beg for their taste. It’s always very much a particular experience, but it’s also always ever so much more than that.
Now how much of this is marketing and advertising’s strategic enhancement of and addition to our own experience and imagination … who knows! It is a potent ethos that negotiates that precarious balance of acknowledging the regular, concrete, specific physical experience without disappointing the ever so much more than that.
What would it be like to have your sip of communion juice or wine be like that first sip of morning coffee? Because, as people of faith, we claim the ethos of communion is ever so much more than the ethos of morning coffee. It too, involves rituals of preparation and partaking. It too involves a rejuvenation, a renewal of energy, a good beginning extended through time and shared experience with those you love, and yet, while it is a unique blend of experience, relayed experience and anticipated experience, experientially, the ethos of communion somehow doesn’t hold a candle to the ethos of morning coffee! Communion is actually so much more often about pathos than any ethos! (“Oh, it’s a communion Sunday. Hope we don’t run late!” “Oh, it’s a communion Sunday. I guess that means a shorter anthem, sermon and fewer hymns to compensate for that additional time.”) It is, all too often, an impotent ethos in which the regular, concrete, specific, physical experience rarely transcends itself into the ever so much more.
We know we want communion to mean more—want to have more of an investment in it. We want there to be more a sense of anticipation—indeed, of need. We want the expectation of rejuvenation—a sense of energy renewed—to feel like we can begin a new week well and begin it well in such a way as to be able to continue it well.
So we seize every opportunity to speak of communion with appreciation and gratitude—for it is often how we speak of something when removed from it that contributes significantly to its ethos. And we invite everyone to consider the litanies and the liturgy an invitation, a portal into mystery and wonder—the great adventure—that once again, the greater meaning might invest the lesser with abundance. For we want each celebrant at each celebration of communion to savor their morsel of bread and swallow of juice, allowing taste to fill mouths even as significance fills minds and imaginations. Such that even in some sanctuary, as it’s bread that is broken, chewed up, ground down to a paste, swallowed (believed), even as it’s juice that’s poured out, drained, swallowed (believed), it’s also the story of Jesus denied sanctuary—himself drained, poured out, ground down, chewed up, broken. It’s the deeply true story of sacrifice accepted in the commitment of and to love—swallowed (believed). And even as it’s communion with those you love immediately surrounding you in that sanctuary, it’s also communion with that great cloud of witnesses—those in your past—your parents and fore-parents in the faith—even as it is communion with sisters and brothers in the faith around the world, and communion with and within the living presence of God. That’s what we want to expect and to experience.
How to accomplish this? How to begin writing or rewriting an ethos? We simply start, and we start simply. Every time we celebrate communion, we seize the opportunity to identify and explore a different strand of meaningfulness woven into the old story—the old story in whose depths we seek to weave our own rituals. And so we take those various strands of meaningfulness (basic physical need and sustenance, oppression and liberation, relational truth that includes: grief, love, brokenness, betrayal, trust, grace, and forgiveness, history and tradition, sacrifice and joy, and the wholeness that is not the absence of the broken, but that is both the promise and the assurance that each piece—each fragment will be treasured and lovingly placed into a being-made-whole), and we braid them (the story told and the story lived) through our own relationships and circumstances into current relevance to fire the imagination—that in its flames we might see the old story flickering in the very midst of our own—that we might know that the heat of that story warms our hearts strangely—that the light of those flames illuminates our own darknesses—that we might know that this is the story we want to claim and by which we want to be claimed even as it unfolds ever anew in its each re-thinking, re-telling, re-experiencing.
We always start with very much a particular experience, but it is always ever so much more than that—the richness of each particular experience grounded in the larger web of story, ritual, and tradition. So that the experience of communion gives meaning to the ethos of communion even as it receives meaning in return—experience and ethos both growing in significance and relevance—the immanent and the transcendent in mutual definition—in a sip of juice. Imagine!