“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”
He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. I assure you that I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way in God’s kingdom.”[Mark 14:22-25]
One of my favorite movies as a kid was The Last Starfighter. The Last Starfighter was a story about Alex Rogan, a teen living in a trailer park in somewhere average America with his mom and kid brother, Louis. Alex is dating his sweetheart, Maggie, who lives with her grandmother in the same trailer park as Alex. They go to the lake with friends, hang out at the trailer park, and stare off in to the sky dreaming of leaving “this place.”
Alex is obsessed with playing this video game in a trailer park called, “Starfighter.” Alex spends far too much time playing this video game as he defends the Frontier from Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada.
One particular electric night in the trailer park, Alex gets in a zone and defends the Frontier on the way towards a high score. As he nears the high score Alex’s neighbors gather to cheer him on. Maggie is there right next to him, impressed with his performance. Alex beats the record and the trailer park goes wild.
Alex finds himself face to face with Centauri, the inventor of the video game Starfighter, that Alex just beat. Centauri takes him in to the Starfighter base. Alex is confused. There are all kinds of humanoid creatures wearing Starfighter suits, all speaking with strange buzzes, blips, clicks, and in foreign patterns of speech. Alex gets stamped with some kind of decoder badge that translates everyone and he learns that there is indeed a Xur and a Ko-Dan Armada that is attacking the Frontier. Alex discovers that the video game he had been playing was an elaborate cover to find humans with the gift to operate the Starfighter space ships.
It is a fun movie. It was the second Disney film to use computer-generated imagery, the first being Tron. The film is a great escape and has action, romance, and comedy. What has stuck with me over the last twenty-eight years was that translator badge Alex got at Starfighter Academy. I always wanted a translator badge.
Many years later, when I was a missionary in Kenya I was a fish out of water. For most of my time in Eastern Africa I traveled Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania meeting many people in my work with the Eastern African office of Church World Service. My office mates spoke English, their mother tongue, and Kiswahili. A few of them spoke additional languages like French, Spanish, Russian, or Italian. I spoke English, Spanglish, and very poor Kiswahili.
It was difficult being there. I was lost without context. I found things to be funny when others did not. When my co-workers laughed I did not get the joke. The foods I craved were nowhere to be found. I celebrated holidays alone with no other celebrants, the Kenyan world unaware of my American sensitivities.
Going to church was difficult too. I went a few times early on but found the language and cultural barrier a perfect excuse to sleep in on Sundays. There was this one time when we were traveling in a desolate, rural area in the western part of Kenya, near the Ugandan boarder, we went to worship in a small concrete floored church. Everyone was speaking a language I did not know. I felt lost. There were things I got and noticed but I did not connect or relate too much.
There was beautiful music being played. The melodies and tunes were familiar but the words were of a language I was unfamiliar with. People danced around the sanctuary. A sermon was delivered. The Spirit of God was moving in and around that room. It was electric. Cheers and shouts filled that concrete floored sanctuary. My ears begged for mercy. The air was being pulled out of the room faster than God could replace it. In a hot and sweat movement a few folks danced towards the front of the sanctuary as the congregation praised God. They danced up to a small table and lifted a white cloth draped over the top. There exposed to the world were a ceramic cup and a small loaf of bread.
I did not have to understand the words. I knew what was going on. As the presider spoke I heard, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” The small loaf of bread that was now in his large black hands was broken in two and placed on the clothed table. Small pewter plates were then distributed around the congregation as they kept on moving in rhythm and paced a slow, soft prayerful hum.
The man at the table continued as he grabbed the ceramic cup and said, He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. The congregation danced towards the front of the sanctuary. The man was up there at the table singing and began to move along with the congregation as he offered the cup to the people. Person after person danced up to the front by the table and drank from the cup. The pace picked up with each passing moment. I could no longer cease being caught up in it and found myself moving towards the table as well. I slowly worked my way to the table and was offered the cup. I took and drank from it. I was relieved, transformed, and confused. I was filled with the Spirit and danced my way back to my seat in the back by the exit.
If there was a theological discussion over real substance, actual presence, or memorial celebration, I missed it. But I had discovered the translator badge that I so desired as a kid. In that moment my inability to communicate with others or understand the language, customs, and practice around me disappeared and were brought into a familiar focus at the Table.
This table is our translator badge. This table takes the joys, woes, sorrows, and triumphs of our sisters and brothers elsewhere and delivers them to us here and now in this chapel on this campus in this moment, we are one. This table removes distance from the equation of life and is the ultimate social justice tool.
The table proclaims that our bodies matter. That the physical nurturing of our bodies matter. In these bodies we will live. In these bodies we will die. A fickle or fettered heart brings faith to the table the same way a confident or an unfettered heart does.
This table makes the high places low and lifts the low places high. This table knows not wealth, privilege, skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity, theological or political disposition. This table knows faith. This table knows hope. This table knows love. This table knows peace.
This table disperses the distance of our narrowly defined humanity and draws us all nearer unto the Christ and in to the presence of our divine creator. It is not in spite of the diversity of God’s creation but because of the diversity of God’s creation that this table transforms us as it does. The fullness of God is only revealed in community as we each bring our piece of the divine to this table and offer it to each other in grace and thanksgiving. For great is the mystery of faith. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. AMEN