Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Red Dirt Ramblings: Hungry or Not?

Lectionary Inspiration from Cameroon: Hungry or Not?
Week of October 7
World Communion Sunday

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday, so I thought I’d share two very different “communion” stories from Cameroon

The first is an experience I had the first time I visited our church in Buea. I prepared to serve Holy Communion to the congregation; they hadn’t celebrated in several months, since I was the only ordained United Methodist clergy in the entire country at the time.

After progressing through the communion liturgy, I issued the invitation. I threw my arms open and asked people to come forward.

The room was full, but only a handful of people shuffled forward to receive the bread and wine.

I was taken aback, but issued the invitation again. Nobody else responded.

After the service, I asked the pastor why so few people came forward. He answered that many of his people had a fear of taking communion because of the Apostle Paul’s assertion that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” (I Cor. 11:27). The pastor explained that most people feel that they must spend a lot of time in prayer and fasting during the week prior to taking communion. Otherwise, they feel unworthy to participate.

Since that experience, I have spent a lot of time explaining our understanding of Holy Communion to the United Methodists of Cameroon. Typically, I use Jesus’ parable of the banquet in Luke 14:15-24. I try to equate the communion service with a big party, or une grande fĂȘte in French.

Then I tell another story. I once attended a funeral service in a village near Sa’a. The family was very poor and could not afford to send the corpse to the morgue; instead, they buried the young woman first thing in the morning. Family and friends began to gather at the family house near the grave, and by midday, there was a large crowd.

I assisted in a brief funeral service with a couple of our pastors. After the service was over, I expected the crowd to thin out. Instead, people continued to gather.

After sitting in the sun for about an hour, I asked one of the pastors, “OK, the funeral is over. What is everybody waiting for?”

He laughed and said, “They’re waiting to eat and drink!”

Knowing the family was very poor, I asked, “But how will the family be able to afford to feed them all?”

He shrugged his shoulders: “I don't know, but nobody will leave until food and drink is served!”

I like to contrast these two stories: the churchgoers in Buea were unfortunately reluctant to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, while the mourners at the funeral exhibited a kind of attitude that is quite appropriate for Holy Communion. They came to eat and drink, and they were not going to leave until they got something!

Sometimes I wish we all were a little more hungry and thirsty when we came to worship …