Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (I Corinthians 11:17-34) transports me to a highly conflicted land that is holy to many, a land known by many names: Canaan, Israel, Palestine, Zion, Judea, Southern Levant. It is the land where the Prince of Peace lived and died, and before he died, he met with his disciples for a last meal and instructed them to remember. That meal soon became symbolic for Christians, a meal of unity, a communion, com-union, with unity, a peaceful co-existence. And yet now, 2000 years later, we are hard pressed to remember much about peace when it comes to Jesus’ land. We know about its wars, its continuing violence. But how many of us come to the table for our ritual bread and wine and remember names like Yonatan Shapiro, or Mazin Qumsiyeh? Shapiro is a Jewish peacemaker, a former fighter pilot who authored the “Pilot’s Letter” announcing the refusal of 27 Israeli army pilots to fly any more missions over occupied territories. He has continued to work with other “refuseniks” and Jewish peacemakers to create alternatives to violence and injustice in the conflict over land. Mazin Qumsiyeh is a Palestinian professor and author and peacemaker who recently participated in a nonviolent action reminiscent of the 1960s Civil Rights movement: a Freedom Bus Ride, with the Freedom Riders boarding buses that take Jewish settlers into areas that Palestinians are forbidden to enter (such as east Jerusalem). There is a growing movement of nonviolent direct action among the Palestinians, as there is among the Israelis. These seem to be important things for us to remember as we consume the body and blood of Christ, who gave his life that we may be one.
The Apostle Paul corresponded with a Corinthian congregation that had not learned to remember the things that make for peace. It was a divided community (a disunity), and the divisions were clearly apparent when it came time to partake in the Lord’s Supper. They were betraying Christ all over again every time they came to the table and used the meal as an opportunity for further estrangement. So Paul spent time creating some protocols, some table manners, some basic rules of etiquette that they would need to follow if they wanted to call themselves followers of the Prince of Peace. Paul was not really doing anything new; every culture throughout history has created its set of table manners, its rules of etiquette, as a way to foster peace and prevent violence. The roots go back to primitive societies, when dinner time was a dangerous time, as each diner came with knife in hand. So manners needed to be minded. Even cannibalistic societies like the ancient Aztecs had strict rules for how to act at the dinner table; they took great care in determining exactly how, when, and who to serve. It makes me think of Silence of the Lambs, how Hannibel Lecter had a copy of Bon Appetit in his jail cell and sounded very mannered and cultured when he talked about eating his meal of liver, fava beans, and a nice Chianti.
But lest I digress too far afield, let’s remember, as Jesus instructed us to do, and imagine how this meal can once again be an occasion for restoring peace, for creating a peaceful coexistence among conflicted people. I remember the name of another peacemaker who went to the Holy Land to to engage in nonviolent resistance: Rachel Corrie. She was a college student who went to the Gaza Strip to work with the International Solidarity Movement, and she died when she acted as a human shield, trying to prevent a bulldozer from destroying the home of a Palestinian family. Her personal diary describing the time she spent there has been made into the script of a powerful and controversial one-woman play. One scene stands out for me. Her diary reveals that while she was engaged in this larger than life political struggle for peace, she was also much like any other young person, with personal relationships on her mind. When thinking about a particular boyfriend, she sang some lines from a Joni Mitchell song: Oh you are in my blood like holy wine, you taste so bitter but you taste so sweet, I could drink a case of you, and I would still be on my feet. May we remember those lines as we go to the table to imbibe in a feast designed to create peace, designed to create peacemakers out of us. May we drink a case of bittersweet Jesus and stay on our feet as we announce our own refusal to participate in violence, as we ride toward freedom across prohibited boundaries, and as we work to shield people from the destructive forces threatening them day in and day out.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.