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When I was a kid, my parents maintained a good-sized vegetable garden in our yard. You see, I was raised in a not-yet overdeveloped suburb in the Metro East… a place where one could actually see the magnificence of the stars at night, without the overbearing glow of city lights. Our yard was a couple acres in size, and almost a quarter of that plot of land was devoted to growing green beans, sweet corn, potatoes, carrots, lettuce… it was quite nice, really… to have the makings of a farmers’ market in our own yard. We even tried growing strawberries and pumpkins on occasion – specialty crops as my dad used to call them.

Of course, this farming venture was not without its challenges. The deer and rabbits seemed to love our produce just as much as we did, prompting a continual opportunity for problem solving – dad was adamant about not erecting a fence of any kind, so we were always looking for more natural ways to keep the wildlife out of the garden (which, by the way, was a never-ending loosing battle). Drought, not surprisingly, contributed to a small harvest on more than one occasion. And, perhaps the greatest challenge of all to my ambitious parents, convincing my brother and me that picking green beans and digging up potatoes is in fact not a chore but could actually be rewarding!

Have you ever picked green beans or dug up potatoes? Let me be frank and say, no matter how you feel about gardening, picking green beans and digging up potatoes is absolutely a chore! Between the unyielding heat and humidity we all know so well… the never-ending feeling of being sweaty, the relentless mosquitoes — God help me I may never understand the purpose of mosquitoes in creation – gardening is hard work. And you better believe these memories come right back to the forefront of my mind every time my spouse mentions an interest in planting a garden at our house.

But I remember the conversations, too – the times of fellowship with my family – as we sat on the back porch snapping green beans. While perhaps other families gathered around their television sets or each went off their separate ways, I realize the blessing that my family – extended family included – would sit in lawn chairs in a circle around citronella candles, snapping green beans and enjoying one another’s company, late into the evenings… giving the younger ones an opportunity to catch lightening bugs. Did you ever catch lightening bugs when you were a kid? And those are memories I wouldn’t trade for the world. Maybe this gardening thing wasn’t that much of a chore after all… maybe it was pretty rewarding.

I also remember what a treat it was to eat a large fresh salad… lettuce, cucumber, carrots, tomatoes, or maybe sometimes even strawberries, that had just been in the ground only a few hours before. My dad used to say that no food ever tastes as good as the food you grow yourself.

I haven’t set foot in a vegetable garden for more than 15 years now, but I still enjoy fresh produce. I’m one of those that can’t pass a roadside produce stand or farmers’ market without stopping to take a look… because, to me, there’s nothing quite like the simple and natural taste of fresh produce. But it wasn’t until my dad quit planting a garden that I realized the produce itself isn’t what I reminisced about… it was the loving connection I shared with my family that made the harvest so satisfying.

Maybe you come from a gardening family too. Or maybe you know the feeling of kin-ship – gathering with loved ones – around the kitchen table. A friend of mine talks about how her family gathers together regularly for fish fries. A classmate of mine over at Eden talks about her family’s multi-generational baking… where the kitchen is full, from old to young, for a day of baking fresh breads and pastries. Or maybe these family gatherings around food are something you’ve only been able to dream of. Whatever the case, food has a way of bringing us together… and not just for the physical nourishment.

Some call it mealtime but I propose a more accurate name would be table fellowship. Have you ever actually stopped to listen just how loud a crowded restaurant can be? The decibel volume of a restaurant dining room can be just as great as busy traffic out on the freeway. That’s because when we gather for food, we’re not really gathering just for food. If we were gathering just for the food, we’d simply eat and leave and the volume level of a restaurant would be more like that of a library. It’s the conversation and the company – the companionship or the kin-ship – that really nourishes us. And I suppose this is an underlying message of today’s Gospel lesson as well.

Friends, bread and wine have been dietary staples for ages. Because of their simple composition, it’s relatively easy to make bread and wine in any region of the world, in any culture, and at any point in human history. But, you see, when we come to the table for this Blessed Sacrament, we’re not coming merely for the food. It’s the conversation and the company – the companionship or the kin-ship – that really nourishes us. Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” This is not a call to hors devours – it’s a call to a communal relationship with a deity that desires to be in relationship with us – a deity that is present with us at the table. A deity that desires not only to satisfy our physical hungers but also our spiritual longings and yearnings.

And this day, this special day, is designed to remind us just what this Blessed Sacrament is really all about.

Our God does not call us to some impersonal dinnertime, having set aside some food for us to eat by ourselves. Our God calls us to fellowship and company with God’s self. We are called to the family table – to Christ’s very presence – to a relational meal that satisfies our souls. That’s why the Eucharist is sometimes also called Holy Communion – communion comes from the Greek word koinonia which means community! We are called into a community in which Christ is real and present with and for us. And this community is shared around the table – the table at which Christ’s presence is made known to us.

I wonder, as those first apostles looked back and reminisced about their time with the living Christ, prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, do you suppose they remembered the food they ate? Or is it more likely they recalled and cherished the company and companionship – the community they enjoyed with their messiah? These apostles, who represented very different walks of life, were brought together into community with God’s self and this is an important lesson for this day:

The Feast of the Body of Christ refers to both the Body of Christ as well as to all those brought together in Christ. Though we may come from different paths in life, different professions, different educational backgrounds, different socioeconomic statuses, and even different denominations and different states, we are called into one another’s company around the common table that unites us – the table at which Christ calls us into relationship with Christ’s self and with one another. And, I believe, it’s in this loving connection we share together as a family around this table with Christ’s presence, that we experience the fullness of God’s never-ending peace and love.

Amen.

Rob Kirbach
Feast of Corpus Christi
May 4, 2014

Photo by mystuart on flickr.com

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