eucharist

Arrests and Re-member-ing: Maundy Thursday

Posted by Autumn Dennis 

I have been to several Maundy Thursday services over the years, but tonight’s service struck a very different chord for me than in the past. For the past few nights, homeless advocates in Nashville have gathered alongside homeless friends in camps around the city. Metro Police have threatened to raid the camps, and there have been recent instances where camps have been set ablaze by police. All day, I have waited to hear word or any sort of report on the state and condition of my friends in the camps. I have followed their posts and updates of staying awake in shifts to keep watch–to keep each other safe.

It is no coincidence that these night watches and raids fall on Holy Week. On this Maundy Thursday, these night watches are incredibly reminiscent of the disciples keeping watch with Jesus through the night as he waits for arrest–our homeless friend Jesus, who had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). Just as Jesus is unjustly arrested, our friends on the streets are unjustly arrested for the crime of existing.

Do this in remembrance of me.

Tonight, as I sat in a Maundy Thursday service at Edgehill United Methodist Church, I meditated heavily on what it means to remember and see Jesus. Maundy Thursday is not only when we recall Jesus’s arrest, but also the institution of the Holy Eucharist as the central liturgy for Jesus’s friends and followers. When Jesus broke the bread and blessed the cup, he said to “do this as often as you can in remembrance of me.” My Latin is a little bit rusty, but the word “remember” always stirs up images of body limbs being stitched back together. To re-member. In the United Methodist tradition, we understand communion elements to not be the literal body and blood of Christ, but that Christ is present in the elements and in the act of communion. In our liturgy before we partake of the sacrament, we declare the mystery of faith:

In remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a holy and living sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died;
Christ is risen;
Christ will come again.

Tonight, I got chills when we proclaimed the mystery of faith. In that very room, by the gathering of people of faith for the purpose of re-membering the body of Christ, Christ rose in that room. Every time we gather to partake of the holy meal, Christ comes again and again. The body of Christ is stitched back together as we share the bread and wine. The disciples saw Jesus in the breaking of the bread. As Dorothy Day wrote:

We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know [God] in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship. We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. (The Long Loneliness)

Whether people of faith are gathered around an altar or a fire in an “illegal” encampment, we re-member Jesus in each other. Even when the powers and principalities continue to arrest Jesus through our friends over and over again, Jesus is risen again and again through the most beautiful act of resistance– community. We are not alone anymore. We are all walking the road to the cross, to the tomb, to the road to Emmaus, together. Jesus needs our company on this long night, to keep watch and pray. Pray and care for your friends on the streets and in camps this night. Amen.

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Photo by Lauren Plummer

Eucharist with* the Poor

This post, written by Amos House Community member Autumn Dennis, was originally posted on the Ministry With* the Poor blog. The original post can be accessed here: http://www.ministrywith.org/blog/view/207/

This article is the second in a series of reflections on Autumn’s experience this summer living and working at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia. The Open Door Community is a residential Protestant Catholic Worker community. They seek to dismantle racism, sexism, heterosexism, abolish the death penalty, and proclaim the Beloved Community through loving relationships with some of the most neglected and outcast of God’s children: the homeless and our sisters and brothers who are in prison. 

Three times a week, the Open Door Community shares a public meal inside of our kitchen with our friends who live on the streets. Before every day of “hospitality”, the residents, volunteers, and friends of the community gather for reflection in the late morning. Now, if you’re a college student like me, sunlight before 7am is potentially fatal; as a result, most days I had no time to really prepare a breakfast for my sleepy head. Most mornings I was left scrambling to put together a meager meal of buttered toast and coffee.

However, as I made this meal several times a week, I remembered all the different encounters I’d had and stories I’ve heard about such simple elements as coffee and bread since committing my life to the streets and prisons. In the writings of Dorothy Day, she describes that before there was a Catholic Worker soup line, there was first a bread line in the Depression, where the unemployed would take up street blocks just to get a shot at some filling bread and warm coffee. A friend of mine who is a death row chaplain says that between getting home late from the prison and waking up very early to get back to the prison, she has no time for any breakfast beyond coffee and toast to wake up and stave off hunger before lunch.

"The Last Supper" by Fritz Eichenberg

“The Last Supper” by Fritz Eichenberg

In Western culture, several high-class diets emphasize the total elimination of bread in order to lose weight, even though the economic ability to refuse to eat bread is itself a massive privilege. Today, coffee is a symbol of worker’s exploitation in South America as the need for fair trade, sustainably grown coffee becomes more evident and mainstream. However, the elevation of coffee and bread is not at all recent. In most cultures, bread is a symbol of the “poor man’s food”, the most basic staple of nourishment. The 14th-century poet Hafez even wrote a poem that contained the lines,

“Love

so God will think

“Ahhhhh,

I got kin in that body!

I should start inviting that soul over

for coffee and

rolls.”

At the Open Door, we believe that Christ comes in the guise of the stranger, the homeless, the prisoner, and the outcast. Every time we share a meal with our friends in soup kitchen, we are sharing a meal with Christ. Every time we huddle around a cold biscuit and a lukewarm cup of coffee, we are connected to the poor throughout the world because these are the staples of nourishment for labor pool workers, for those in bread and soup lines, for those working in fields, for those who serve them, and for all those who do not have the luxury of or time for a full meal.

What if Christ was around today? If Christ comes to us in the guise of the marginalized, what kind of meal would he share with his friends today? I am inclined to think instead of wine, the “rich man’s drink”, and matzo, the “poor man’s bread”, Jesus might use coffee and rolls to teach us how to “do this in remembrance of me.”

I believe the point of Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, and Communion is to be UNITED and REMEMBER. While most of us don’t drink Welch’s Grape Juice and Hawaiian Sweet Bread together as a part of our everyday meals, many of us daily consume coffee and toast. Every time we drink coffee and eat toast, may we be united with the least of these everywhere who might be eating and drinking the same thing before their labor. Every time we drink coffee and eat toast, may we remember who is represented in these new elements, the poor of the world who grew the grain and the coffee, and the Christ that comes hidden in this disguise. Let us reimagine what the Eucharist is and can be, and how we can remember and be united. Let us reimagine and remember the broken, homeless, immigrant, executed, brown Body of Christ.