“Saints cannot exist without a community, as they require, like all of us, nurturance by a people who, while often unfaithful, preserve the habits necessary to learn the story of God.” ― Stanley Hauerwas
I grew up the youngest of seven children in the small community of Whiteway in Trinity bay in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Time together with family was a given.There was very little screen time. Before iPads and Twitter, computers or cell phones, we had each other. There was no Facebook – there was face time. In fact for much of my childhood our community did not even have cable TV, meaning we really only watched two television channels – The CBC, and the snowy channel. We created our entertainment. It could not be purchased. Time together, storytelling, arguing joking, and fun-making was a large part of building our family unit. In fact this was true of the the community in in general.
When I reflect on the moments together that were most meaningful and most important in building the fabric of our family, I realize that our time around the family table was the most critical time we ever spent together. My mother prepared a fine feast each time we sat at our table. The meal was often simple but was always prepared with the greatest amount of love. When we gathered around the table, we gave thanks, and we broke bread. My mother always made sure we broke bread well together. Many times that bread was so fresh that we could still smell love rising from the loaf. We knew what time supper was and we were at the table in time to eat. Missing the meal was not really an option. To be honest it was something that we looked forward to. With food and bread in hand, the important part of the meal began. Someone always had a story to tell. With a large crowd it could be difficult at times to get your story in. (This may lend some insight into this blogger’s need to be heard – youngest at the table must fight for attention… well must is a strong word… but you get the idea!) Most often the storyteller was our father. Dad had a special way with words. He was colourful, entertaining, and always knew how to build the story to a point of great anticipation and excitement. Many times we heard the same stories more than once and we did not mind a bit. They were great tales that kept us captivated. Some stories made us laugh, others held a serious tone. They were always good and in fact many times the retelling of the story brought new details to light, or perhaps exaggerated details is more accurate. It did not matter! The real point here is that being together around our table and hearing the stories of our past, our present, and our the hopes for our future, was the most integral part of learning what being a member of the George family looked like. Most of what I learned about what it means to be a George, I learned at the dinner table.
I think of our family time at the table often when discussing baptism and what it means in the context of being a part of the community. In the baptismal covenant the people are asked Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? They respond; I will, with God’s help.
This question is really asking the people of God will they come to the Dinner Table. As surely as I learned what it meant to be George around our family’s dinner table, the church family, the body of Christ, discovers its identity in gathering as community around The Table! Baptism is very much a sacrament which is rooted in belonging to a wider family. We gather regularly around the table and often we hear the same stories told again and again. It is in the retelling of the stories that we come to know who we are and who we have been as a people. It is hearing those stories retold That gives us hope for our future. Simply put, we cannot know who we are and we cannot discover who we are becoming if we do not gather together as community around our table.
Often we hear people say they don’t need to go to church to experience God. I agree with that. People often continue that they don’t need to be at church to be a good Christian. I disagree! We must be together to learn the story of God…to learn our story. Living the fullness of our baptismal covenant means living in community with others. It means coming to grips with the struggles, the joys, sorrows, the celebrations, that go along with being part of a diverse family of people. It would’ve been foolish for me to say I don’t need to gather with my brothers and sisters at the family dining table. Imagine me arguing as a young lad to my mother that I can discover who I am In the context of my family by hanging out on my own and touching in once in a while to say hello and perhaps sharing in a meal. Nowadays families do not have table time the way we used to. I cannot imagine what I would have lost if I had been one of those children who gets to eat my meal alone in my bedroom while playing a video game. It works the same way with our Communion Table. If I am not joining with the Body of Christ around the table then I will never learn God’s story or my own relationship with it.
Often people say stay away from church because people are hypocrites. Suppose we treated our family dinner experience the same way. Imagine saying that I cannot have dinner with my family because some of them have said one thing and done something else and because of that they are hypocrites. The truth is we all fall short of who we are called to be. We are all less than perfect. There are those at home, and those a church who have tried and have failed. But we are called to love! Called to Love even the imperfect. And thank God for that! Because if the imperfect are wrapped up in God’s love I just may be okay after all.
Being around the dinner table often means hearing what your brother or sister is going through and finding a way to respond to it. In gathering around The Eucharistic Table with others we also gain the opportunity to hear what our friends in Christ are going through and to be a support, help, and a healing presence for others. Likewise we give others an opportunity to be a healing presence for us.
A large part of living out our lives as faithful and baptised Christians will mean finding a community in which we are comfortable and being able to gather around the table regularly, breaking bread with those that will surprise us, enliven us, infuriate us, disappoint us, but most important love us and forgive us. Our collective experience of dining at the Table of Christ will give us a foretaste of the kingdom of God. Yes we may hear a story or two that we have heard before. But hearing those stories will give insight into the experience of being a people of God. Hearing those stories again will give us perspective on who we are today in relationship to others. Hearing those stories retold will give us hope for who we may become tomorrow as we build the City of God.
We may not always get it right – but with God’s help let us continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.