This is the third of three blog posts reflecting on the presbytery and on the General Assembly. I will return to following the lectionary on my July 26 post after I return from vacation.
There is so much that could be shared about the 223nd General Assembly in St. Louis. I am thankful that our commissioners have already stepped into that role with a report to the presbytery, an open space conversation, and a commitment to put a resource list together of the many actions of the General Assembly.
I just want to share and reflect on one moment, one of the very last moments of the entire General Assembly. The preacher for our closing worship was a woman who was originally from South Sudan and had been ordained only three weeks before as the pastor of First Arabic Presbyterian Church in Waukee, Iowa, just outside of Des Moines.
The Rev. Ekram Kachu had some insightful words to share about being a praying people and trusting God in difficult times. She received a knowing laugh when she spoke of how hard it was to found a non-English speaking church in our tradition, saying, “It’s easier to get to heaven than to be a Presbyterian.” We all chuckled at both the humor and the truth of her comment.
But the moment I really want to share with you is when the Rev. Kachu presided over the Lord’s Table as we all joined together for Communion one last time before boarding flights to destinations all over the world. Quite honestly, the Communion liturgy was fairly traditional. What made it unique was that she decided to offer the words of institution in her native tongue, Sudanese.
As she recited the words, “On the night of Jesus’ arrest…” in Sudanese and broke the bread I was suddenly overtaken by the realization that the universal language is the breaking of bread and the drinking from the cup. I did not recognize any of the words that she was speaking even though I knew exactly what she was saying. But as she spoke in her native tongue I realized that even if she had stood up there completely silent I would have gotten the message. If she had only stood up there, lifted up the loaf, paused for a moment, looked at us with knowing eyes and then broke the bread, I would have heard the message loud and clear. It is the breaking of bread that pulls us together. It is supping from the common loaf and the shared cup that is the universal language.
Last week I attended a lunch meeting to bring Oregon faith leaders together around a new initiative titled The Common Table. The initiative is largely to bring people who are divided along political, social and theological lines together as we negotiate our way through this deeply partisan and divisive time. As we talked about finding our way through this we discovered that even the most basic assumptions that have unified us are now open to question. We dug deeper to find something that could unify us. Finally, the one of my respected colleagues from another tradition spoke up and named it, “We have to start with this—what we are doing today—simply breaking bread together. It is the table that pulls us together.”
I didn’t recognize a single word of the Rev. Ekram Kachu, but I knew the language. I knew the language of breaking bread, sharing the cup, and coming together around a table.
That, my friends, is the universal language.
That, my friends, is our gift to a hurting and divided world.