The picture and the title are a little obscure this time, but I promise an explanation is coming.
The picture dates to the first weekend we were back home in Austin. After attending a service at our beloved First United Methodist, Mark and I headed to our favorite burger place, Hut’s Hamburgers. For years, we’ve ordered the same thing: a Richie Valens meat and a half order of fries for him, and a Richie Valens veggie and half order of onion rings for me. As you can see, we enjoyed our repast. It was a bittersweet meal in some ways, though, because Hut’s is closing its doors in October. Hut’s opened in 1939 and moved to downtown Austin in 1969, so this is a big deal.
So as Mark and I change by dint of our European adventure, Austin changes as well. I swear the traffic is worse than it was six months ago when we left for Spain. That’s bad. Bee Caves Road has a left turn lane onto Westlake Drive now. That’s good. Oh, and new people are sitting in our usual pew at First Methodist. But the Lord will forgive them, for they know not what they do. But mostly it’s lovely to be here, and that’s mostly because we are seeing scads of family and friends. And generally we’re seeing them at mealtime. We’ve eaten lots of Tex-Mex and barbecue in very good company.
What is it about breaking bread – or tortillas- with someone that cements a relationship? I suppose it’s partly because everyone, however lowly or lofty, has to eat. Eating here also reinforces our cultural ties – hence, the Tex-Mex and barbecue. Writing about this idea brings to mind the story a friend told me after reading an earlier post involving my desire for American peanut butter. She told me with a laugh that when she was traveling frequently to Germany for business, expat pals would ask her to bring along foods from the US that they craved. She said she felt like a peanut butter and Cheerios mule, which is an image that still makes me smile.
But besides reinforcing our common humanity and culture, eating also is a tangible, gentle reminder of how little in our lives lasts. I guess that’s why Ecclesiastes and Isaiah both command us to “eat, drink, and be merry.” Wise people who knew mortality up close and personal wrote these books; in fact, Isaiah finishes his commandment to prandial pursuits and jollity with “for tomorrow you may die.” Presumably he was always the life of the prophetic party.
So what’s the best meal we’ve shared while in Austin? At the risk of sounding super corny, it was Communion at church the second Sunday we were home. No tacos were involved, so it’s a close call to pick this as the best, but we were lucky enough to be asked to help serve. After six months away, we were sharing a meal with all of the people who came through our line. Not everyone was familiar; probably not everyone was even a churched person, because our denomination practices open table and offers Communion to anyone seeking God in his or her life, in whatever form that quest may take.
And so we went. Mark held the cup, and I preceded him and tore off the bread and placed it into the cupped hands each person presented to me. I can’t say I did a great job tearing the bread; some pieces were minuscule, and others were so large I found myself hoping that the curriculum in seminary included administering the Heimlich Maneuver. But no one choked up, except for me, when I got to lightly grasp each person’s fingers, press bread into the waiting palms, and look into welcoming eyes. This is humanity and culture and mortality and transcendence, all in one bit of King’s Hawaiian (gluten free available at the north station). Best meal of the trip, for sure. Maybe the best meal ever.
I’ll close by leaving you with what we all said together after Communion. It’s way better than anything I’ll ever write.
Prayer After Receiving
In gratitude, in deep gratitude
for this moment, this meal, these people,
we give ourselves to you.
Send us out to live as changed people
because we have shared the Living Bread
and cannot remain the same.
Ask much of us,
expect much from us,
enable much by us,
encourage many through us.
So, Lord, may we live to your glory,
both as inhabitants of earth
and citizens of the commonwealth of heaven.