In one of his Daily Meditations, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr tells of a meal in the monastery. The community gathers from their own personal worlds – from work, study, traveling, household chores and all the many and various tasks of their lives. As they first sit at table, they begin with a brief prayer. Then in silence they listen as one of our faith stories is read, perhaps from the bible or from a work of spirituality, something of the stories that sustain their faith and spirit.
As the meal begins, they continue in silence focusing on what they are doing. Eating each item of the meal aware of its origin, how it came to the table, its taste, its goodness. They are aware of the meal and of the community that gathers with them at this table.
At some point the silence is broken and they enter into conversation with those around them. They speak of many things – the meal itself, what has happened on this day, of their work, they their experiences, their own challenges and advances. All of life is part of the conversation. Like the meal, their lives are shared freely.
Finally, the meal is over and they rise from the table to return to their worlds. But they are different from when they came. Each of them has been fed. Their food is more than what was on the plate. They were fed with the stories faith with which they began, the conversations in which they engaged, perhaps most significantly by the companionship that surrounded the table. They now leave to bring and share life with their worlds and beyond.
In John’s Gospel speaks of the feeding he brings to all: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Jn.6:51) This chapter of John begins with the account of Jesus feeding the crowd with bread and fish. Obviously those he fed got more than the physical food. The shared meal brought life for the whole world.
Each Sunday we come together as a parish community. We bring our worlds with us – our family, our home and work, our experiences of joy and struggle, our faith and our doubt, our hopes, disappointment and our dreams. All of this we bring to the table where we are fed. We share all of this with one another and with the Spirit of the Risen Jesus who is among us and feeds us. This is the real meaning of a parish community. It feeds and sustains us at the table and beyond. What happens at that monastic community and what happened when Jesus fed the crowd happens in our parish at Eucharist from the table we bring life to our personal worlds and beyond.
A week from now, on 1 September, the current parishes of our diocese will be celebrating their first Eucharist as new single parishes. Clusters of two and three and four communities will come together as one. We will bring our many worlds together at the Eucharistic table to celebrate as one. Let us pray that around the table we recognize we are one community called to bring life to one another and then to go forth sharing the Good News we have received with others.