I had a professor in college who liked to tell students, “Communion is not a snack.” ‘Of course it’s not a snack,’ I thought the first time I heard his mini-lecture. ‘It’s you know, communion.’ Equating the Lord’s Supper with a snack was a humorous way for my professor to introduce what he was trying to communicate, but in truth that understanding was not a far-off stretch from what many of my friends and classmates believed, including myself. For I could sit there thinking, ‘it’s you know, communion,’ but struggle to put into words the depth and breadth of meaning and character of the holy meal that makes comparing it to a snack absurd.
In the time since then I’ve come, and am still coming to, a much richer, fuller, and truer understanding of the sacrament of holy communion. I could write a lot about that process, all the influences that shape it, my current convictions and what I’m still working through, but that would become a very long blog post! Instead, I’ll just share from a recent influence, the thoughts Dr. Samuel Torvend shared with us at the Detroit Hunger Leaders Gathering.
The Rev. Dr. Samuel Torvend presented a workshop, “The Spirituality and Practice of Eucharistic Ethics” and plenary session, “Who Benefits from Keeping the Hungry Poor Both Hungry and Poor?” at the Gathering. I loved what he had to say. (Torvend won me over in part by reminding me of my professor’s communion/snack distinction with his likening of individual communion wafers to fish food — “It takes more faith to believe its bread than the body of Christ,” I believe is what he said. Ha!)
But in all seriousness, Torvend said some very powerful things about the ways in which eucharistic practice shapes a spirituality of social commitment with, to and for people who are hungry and poor. There is an environmental ethic in every part of eucharistic celebration. Socioeconomic class is always invoked. Celebrating the eucharist always sends us out into the world to serve all in need and give ourselves away as bread for the hungry, to actually become what we eat and drink. Torvend made clear the “seamless flow between the table of the Lord and the table of the poor” and shared the conviction that sacrament and social action are coextensive, like breathing in and breathing out. For me, the connections between receiving the bread of life and feeding those who are hungry are undeniable.
I continue to think about the various ethical imperatives and questions that Torvend raised for us in Detroit, and hope you could gain something from my brief and humble attempt to reflect on them. I encourage you to check out Torvend’s thoughts yourself!