Dr. Mark Lloyd Taylor posting live from South Korea:
This will be my last daily post. I begin the journey home tomorrow morning. I have sensed for several days that this final post would have something to do with the fact that the largest of ecumenical Christian gatherings will NOT be celebrating Holy Eucharist / Communion / the Lord’s Supper together. But now that it comes to it, I don’t have single, clear point – just a collection of observations.
The World Council of Churches is constitutionally committed to making the God-given unity of the church of Jesus Christ visible – including full eucharistic fellowship. The absence of such unity around the table echoes throughout this assembly. It is lamented by one and all, yes. It is explained by some, with statements about the conditions under which we might join together at the table.
For me as an Anglican, whose weekly and high holy day worship unfailingly involves the meal, I feel a hole at the heart of this gathering. Surely, this must count as a high and holy occasion. Without the bodily, noncognitive, elemental act of eating and drinking together, our worship is all the more likely to drift by default in a disembodied, verbal and cerebral, abstract direction. All the more essential, therefore, that when we worship ecumenically in the absence of a shared eucharistic meal, we go out of our way to find common nonverbal and embodied actions to bind us together. A bishop from Sri Lanka made a strong case for footwashing being an appropriate stopgap substitute for shared eucharist. For me personally, walking that green path of pilgrimage in the worship hall, participating visually in the procession of the assembly’s one book of scripture, and the use of drumming and dancing to call us into worship have helped – if only a little – to feed my body in the absence of the meal at Christ’s table.
Today’s worship symbol: soil and food – a basket of dirt and a basket of rice and persimmons – placed at the fifth of the stations along the path. The accompanying Bible text was the story from 1 Kings 21 of Naboth and his ancestral vineyard that was expropriated by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. A story about land; one directly relevant to the loss of land by indigenous peoples around the world today to colonizers, corporations, and developers. But the story involves a series of NOT eating moments. Ahab is depressed when Naboth refuses to sell him his vineyard and the king refuses to eat. Jezebel urges: eat something and act on your prerogatives as king. Together, the royal couple calls a fast – a public, ceremonial gathering – and place Naboth at the head table. (Who has a table of honor on an occasion when people will NOT be eating together? Is it a fast or a feast?) At table with the leaders of the city, Naboth is falsely accused of having cursed God and king; he is hauled away and stoned to death. Ahab gets his vineyard. Not my favorite Bible story! The passage this week I’ve had the most trouble “bringing home,” as we’ve been saying in our contextual Bible studies. Maybe that’s the point. There is something troubling about a story of destructive NOT eating together in the context of the churches’ absence of eucharistic fellowship.
And so I simply close with the first and last verses of the final song I will have sung with my Christian sisters and brothers here in Busan:
How long will we sing? How long will we pray?
How long will we write and send?
How long will we bring? How long will we stay?
How long will we make amends?
Until all are fed! we cry out; until all on earth have bread.
Like the One who loves us each and every one, we serve until all are fed.
On that green, green grass they gathered long ago
to hear what Jesus Christ said.
What they had they shared, some fishes and loaves,
they served until all were fed.
~ Dr. Mark Lloyd Taylor