When does a hug become a front-page news story?
When it’s between University of Colorado receiver Travis Hunter and CSU safety Henry Blackburn. During the “Rocky Mountain Showdown” football game, Blackburn was penalized for a late hit, resulting in a serious injury to Hunter. Reactions went viral, including threats of additional violence. This week, the two met in person and hugged it out, assuring all that there was no bad blood between them and their rivalry was strictly confined to the football field. Much more interesting to me was that both cited their shared Christian faith that mandates forgiveness.
We pray for it every week in the prayer Jesus taught: Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. A few weeks ago, Rev. Olivia Hudson Smith proclaimed that our ability to forgive one another flows directly from God’s heart of compassion, a limitless stream of grace.
Forgiveness is so central to the good news and so essential for wholehearted faith that it calls for closer examination: sermon series!
Today and for the next two weeks, we’re going to ask questions about this dynamic in human relationships between and among us. How can it mend shattered lives? Does the promise of forgiveness excuse bad behavior? Can it happen without the injured party’s consent? How does it work among communities experiencing trauma from past harm? What restorative actions are prompted by forgiveness? The title of the series hints at its perspective: that forgiveness is a generous act of giving with a view toward future wholeness.
Today’s text witnesses its stunning inauguration. From the cross, Jesus’ prayer for his executioners is an invocation of God’s unconditional and transforming love upon them, upon us, and upon all humanity. A reading from Luke, chapter 23, verses 32-38. Listen for God’s Word that reconciles what is broken and estranged. [LUKE 23:32-38]
Such good news cannot be shared by words alone. Where words fail, the Church has created ritual acts to taste and see, to experience afresh, to remember.
Today, we celebrate one of those rituals, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It’s a visible sign of a spiritual truth: the love that holds us and the whole universe is stronger than any destructive or distracting force, even death. Nothing can separate us from Love; we are part of the whole. And not us alone; today, we especially recognize the global embrace of God’s love. This is world Communion. We gather at a Table with siblings from every nation, a continual thanksgiving from the rising of the sun to its setting. Eat. Pray. Love.
At Central and many Presbyterian congregations, Jesus’ invitation is inclusive—it is for all; for little children and jaded elders. It’s for anyone who is hungry, curious, angry, or doubting. It’s not a gourmet dinner for a privileged few. It’s a simple and humble meal, using elements from everyday life. Bread. Grape juice.
In this meal lies the recognition of our shared humanity. We are human. We need bread (though not bread alone). We need community and belonging, the assurance of our beloved-ness. And the knowledge that we are part of something more, something larger than our own selves and precious kin.
It was Molly, our director of Faith Formation, who suggested that we show the breadth and depth of Love reflected in this meal by using bread from many countries.
As we collected a variety, our appreciation increased through particular insights from the various loaves:
- The wine bread we’ve used since limiting contact during pandemic days contains rosemary, an herb associated with remembrance. In its pungent fragrance, we remember the reality of death and the vulnerable power of God to overcome its finality.
- The loaf of Jewish rye recalls our common family tree. We are children of Abraham and Sarah, heirs with Jewish siblings of God’s covenant, a promise of love throughout every generation.
- The bread from Laos is sticky rice, a staple that sustains the community and is offered freely to wandering Buddhist monks and others who are hungry. We’re never to hoard our gifts, but share them and, in sharing, remember our common bonds.
- At every Communion table, we offer gluten-free elements in recognition that inclusion asks us to be hospitable to special needs and diverse conditions. In his earthly ministry, Jesus tore down barriers that made God’s gifts difficult or impossible to receive. We try to do that, too.
- Tortillas from native-grown corn have fed indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The best ones are made from family recipes and techniques handed down from generation to generation. Tortillas are reminiscent of the unleavened bread of the Israelite people, made to nourish them while escaping from oppression and immigrating to the promised land. They pack and keep well in every condition.
- Tradition claims that the apostle Thomas first took the Christian gospel to India. Despite Thomas’s doubts—and maybe even through them—the Spirit took root in East Asia. Eating naan from India can be a delicious reminder that wholehearted faith is nourished through asking questions, life-long learning, and conscious curiosity.
- So I got the idea to ask Naomi and Gertrude, our Malawi friends, to prepare the bread they use for Communion in their home church. You could hear the puzzlement in their response: Well, the elders just go to the market and buy bread, just a regular everyday loaf. God’s love comes in many styles, including your basic “Wonder Bread.”
- On the table today, there are southern-style homemade biscuits. The recipe I used actually said that biscuit sides should touch for higher rising. If that isn’t a metaphor for a beloved community, I don’t know what is! When we connect with one another closely, all of us are lifted…out of loneliness, despair, and at the end, out of the grave. We’re better together.
[Actually, there are no biscuits on the Table. They never made it here. On the way, I encountered several hungry people who seemed to appreciate their aroma and taste. And doesn’t that make it seem like we’re sharing Communion with some siblings in the encampment and Heartbeat Shelter? Can I get an amen?!!]
When you are invited to come to the Table, you are welcome to choose from among the many options for bread and cup. Savor the variety. Revel in God’s abundant love and Jesus’ willingness to go “all in” to demonstrate it.
And what does any of this have to do with forgiveness?
Well, Communion doesn’t happen just by setting a pretty table. It is through broken bread and poured-out cup that we know the deep Divine Love in which we are created, forgiven, and restored to wholeness. This Table is gonna get messy because life is messy. We hurt each other in a hundred ways. We are sometimes selfish and act only in our own interest. We get greedy and fearful of missing our fair share. We are afraid of “the other” and anxious about the future.
Our own resources seem so little in the face of so much. I love the counter-argument put forth by Irish poet David Whyte:
This is not the age of information. This is NOT the age of information. Forget the news and the radio and the blurred screen. This is the time of loaves and fishes. People are hungry, and one good word is bread for a thousand.
Friends, that one good word is spoken at this Table. You are loved. You are forgiven. I am forgiven. We are reconciled. We are one.
And thanks be to God!