The Rite of the Common Meal by Erika Johnson


My sister, Erika Johnson, has her degree in Theology from Whitworth University. She’s spent her time since graduation traveling the world and exploring different areas of life and work. You can read about some of our travels together at our latest blog here

This week she shares some thoughts on communion and the sacred art of meals together.


During my junior year of college, I worked in student life. My job included a lot of time-consuming meetings. In particular, I needed to meet with a number of people, individually. Because my schedule was already so hectic, I usually planned these to coincide with meals. No matter how busy we both were, we still needed to eat, so why not double up that time? Maximum efficiency enabled me to survive that year. I learned, though, that talking over a meal was not just an efficient use of time. Combining these activities both eased and deepened our conversations; the combination was, in a sense, sacramental.

The sacrament of communion, or the Eucharist, is referred to as a meal in the liturgy. The rite also reminds us, each time we participate, that the ceremony we now celebrate was instituted at a full meal. Although now we stand in lines to receive bits of bread and sips of wine, Jesus and his disciples were sitting around a table, enjoying a religious feast. And after his death and coming back to life, Jesus met his disciples on a lakeshore and cooked for them. Meals bracket Jesus’ act of saving the world.

I think that Jesus understood and used the power of sharing food and, by valuing and connecting with it, lent it a transcendent and holy quality. His use of meals — and even the language he used concerning food — deeply unsettled those who surrounded him. People were upset over his dinners with sinners and abruptly walked away when he said, “I am the Bread — Living Bread — who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live — and forever! The Bread I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.” (John 6:5)

It’s not hard to see why people walked away; this is disconcerting — and remains a mystery. But mystery doesn’t negate the power of Christ’s sacrifice. And, on a lesser level, mystery doesn’t negate the power of meals to draw us together. Just as, in the Mass, we’re told, “We who are many are one body, because we all share in one bread, one cup.” Somehow in sharing our common meals, we are knit together.

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