I am not a huge fan of McDonalds. Or Hardees. Or Burger King. Or any one of the hundreds of fast food places one can go to. I get that it is convenient. I know that one guy lost a ton of weight on a Subway Sandwich diet. I know for soccer moms and dads on the go, sometimes it is salvation. When I am making my 10 hour drive to my friend in Texas, it is the way I go – a quick stop for gas and some chicken pieces for the road and I am back driving, minimal time lost, and food in my belly. Yet I still have my qualms.
Besides the nutrition aspect, (which apparently is getting better) and the recycling mess from all the necessary packaging; my question is, “Does fast food really do what a meal is meant to do? – To connect us to one another? Maybe it does. But somehow, it seems too neat, with too little investment of the family into the time. You don’t have to spend time setting the table. Or cleaning the table before you can set it. Or sitting down and really talking with your family members about the day in and day out stuff. Or thanking the cook for their labors. Or even arguing about whose turn it is to do the dishes. It is just too disconnected and too “non-invested” to work for me.
There was a reason, I think, that Jesus had the crowd get together in groups of about 50. He could have done the “fast food drive through window” style. “Okay boys, Line ‘em up. No shoving, no pushing. One fish and one small loaf for each. Don’t let them take any more. And “NO”, they can’t bring some home for their sister.” Instead, we simply hear: “have them sit in groups of about 50.”
Why 50? If it is ten or less, you will sit down with your friends. 50 will almost guarantee people with different world views. In a group of 50 – you’ll have 3 people dealing with the death of a loved one, 2 who are out of a job, 4 who are struggling with illness. You’ll see the world’s pain in a microcosm. Yet, 50 can still be intimate and connected enough to make a difference. He wanted his disciples to know that there is a world bigger than the hand in front of their faces. And that world was not always clean and perfect. In fact, at times, it was downright messy. In a big crowd – you could hide that. Not in groups of fifty.
In groups of fifty, you’d experience, not fast food quickly eaten and forgotten, but a sense of connection to others that would both comfort and challenge you. You’d know that the world was not so neat and tidy – that there were struggling people out there. And you would know that YOU BELONGED, one to another. That is why Jesus had them sit down in groups of 50… To teach his disciples and US what it means to be the Body of Christ.
And isn’t that what our experience of the Eucharist is meant to be? It is meant to entail some effort on our part; to engage us with the needs of our brothers and sisters. It is meant to call us out of ourselves and into a world that is not always neat and tidy and quick.
When I was in the seminary we had some very persnickety sacristans who would get things ready for Mass. They would put out the host which they organized in perfect array in the ciborium that holds the hosts. It was as if Martha Stewart had prepared the liturgy. The president of the seminary was this rather disheveled old priest with a mischievous attitude. As he would process up the aisle he would look down at the ciborium and take his finger and totally mess up the perfect arrangement of host. Every single time! I thought it was hilarious. But it became for me a symbol of what we are about as church – messy, somewhat chaotic, at times unruly, but REAL always REAL, resistant to any attempt to be tamed and domesticated. A reminder that what we do here though messy and even exhausting, is genuine and honest and sincere.
So this week, as we reflect on our communal aspect of this feast – living and being the body of Christ in the world – let that be the framework of your prayer. How do I treat the both the Eucharist and the Body of Christ that we are as a church as fast food?
• Do I consistently arrive 5-10 min late – bringing the distraction of movement to folks who have settled themselves into prayer? Or do I find myself lacking in charity and creating all kinds of scenarios about the folks who do arrive consistently 5-10 minutes late? (because sometimes stuff happens to make you late)
• Have I done any preparation for my being here – reading the scriptures, preparing my heart, quieting the business of my life? Or do I show up in ‘drive through mode” all the time?
• Am I ready to sit down in those “groups of 50” – to really MEET my sisters and brothers with whom I share the Body of Christ – knowing that it will be messy at times, and uncomfortable at times?
Fast food is okay stuff if you just need to keep you belly filled. But it never works as an image of the Body of Christ. As we sit down on our ‘groups of fifty’, in this wonderfully messy, imperfect church of ours – stir the hosts in the ciborium a bit – and rejoice in the blessings, not of fast food, but the banquet of life itself…