|Posted by Sue Badeau on March 25, 2016 at 9:35 AM|
There is a famous scene in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, vividly portrayed in the movie version (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4iEdMMjqdA ) when young Oliver, filled with both terror and bravado, takes his empty gruel bowl to the head of the table and says, “Please Sir, I want some more.”
This scene encapsulates many of Dickens’ themes in the novel, as he calls out the inhumanity of the gross structural systems that existed to fatten the wealthy and powerful, while keeping the poor in their place - starving not only for food but for the basics of human kindness, affection and dignity.
Last night, I attended the traditional Maundy Thursday Service of Tenebrae, the commemoration of Jesus’ last supper on earth with his disciples prior to his betrayal and the events that led to his death by crucifixion on this day, Good Friday. It is one of my favorite services of the year, deeply moving and emotionally powerful.
However, as we read and reflected on the familiar passage in I Corinthians chapter eleven about the Lord’s Supper, I was struck more than ever before with the lines that are often overlooked – verses 17 – 22. This is one of Paul’s harshest admonishments of the early church. He is sharply criticizing the manner in which they have been conducting Lord’s Supper services. As we read his words and dig deeper into the historical context, I realized that a communion service in the early church would have looked more like the scene I described from Oliver Twist than any ritualized communion service we might be familiar with today.
And what was the substance of Paul’s criticism? Was it about their theology? Was he teaching them the finer points of biblical exegesis? NO! He was chastising them for the way they allowed the existing power structures to infiltrate their relationships with one another even in this sacred meal. Many were becoming drunk and fattened, while others were starving not only for food but for human kindness and dignity.
Jesus did not come, live among humans, suffer the cross and rise again merely to introduce a new theology. He came to bring about dramatic change in the very structures of how we, as humans, relate to and interact with not only God but with one another. Just as he totally upended the tables of the "money-changers" in the temple, he wants to totally upend the way we live our lives not only as individuals, but collectively in community. He wants us to disrupt the evil nature of the structural systems that fatten some while starving others.
We may have cleaned up our approach to communion services, but we still have a world in which s a few grow fat while many starve. Paul’s admonition to the early church is reminiscent of of the words in Isaiah 58:
“Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke? “Is it not to divide your bread [c]with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? “Then your light will break out like the dawn,"
As we take moments for silent reflection on this dark Good Friday, waiting for the great light of Easter morning to break out like dawn, let us imagine a world where every child, every little Oliver Twist, has enough – a belly filled with good food, a heart filled with genuine love and compassion, a spirit filled with the tender touch of God offered through human hands.
Hands such as ours.
Will you divide your bread with the hungry today? Will I? Let us engage in the chosen fast and rejoice together then our light breaks out on the dawn of Sunday morning.
Categories: Hope for the Journey - Devotional Reflections