On Monday mornings I used to park my car on the service road along 15/501, there in front of the storage facility and Swedish Imports mechanic. I’d walk down to the end of the road, down a dirt path that cut through bushes and shrubs, winding around the skeletons of refrigerators and washing machines devoured by vines, until I reached a passageway slashed through the curtains of kudzu. In the middle of the open space people were setting up chairs around a table, and on the table a feast was prepared—vegetable stew and cornbread, pastries and cakes, coffee and sweet tea, and at the center of it all was bread and a cup, warm bread, smelling like it just came out from an oven.
Isaiah 55:2, “Eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
Psalm 63:5, “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips.”
There, on a Monday morning, at the corner of highway 15/501 and interstate 40, we sat around and ate and talked. I was happy—a rich feast and joyful lips. After a while, it was time for the worship service to begin. We turned our chairs toward the table. We sang a few hymns. Someone read a passage from the Bible. Carol [name changed] preached a short sermon, and as she finished with her reflection, she looked at me with an anxious question in her eyes. It was time to celebrate Communion, she said to everyone gathered, but the ordained Methodist pastor who was supposed to preside at the table hadn’t showed up. I was the only “ordained” pastor there, apparently. So she asked if I would come up and serve Communion, and I went up there, took the bread and cup, and read Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians—“On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus took bread.” Steam from the loaf of bread wafted around our circle as I broke it in my hands. I walked from one person to the next, tearing off pieces, placing them in hands.
I came to the last person—a man with tangled hair clumping down to his shoulders, and a long matted beard. I smelled days of dried sweat and stale alcohol lingering in the pores of his skin. I held a chunk of bread in my hand, and I looked into his eyes and said, “the body of Christ, broken for you”—and as I said, “you,” he started to sob, his shoulders shaking, his chest trembling, tears streaming down his cheeks, washing through his beard.
After the service I saw him ask to borrow Carol’s cell phone, and I heard parts of his conversation with whoever it was he was talking to. “I’m here in the woods and I had to call you,” he spoke quickly, loudly. He was pacing.“I had to call you because you’re never going to believe this. They let me eat the Communion.”
A satisfied soul.
Isaiah 55:1, “Listen, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”
Psalm 63:1, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
[a story too personal for the internet]
1 Cor 10:13, “God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing God will provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”
63:8, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”
I’ve been trying to understand tears—the tears in these stories, your tears and mine—not as signs of sadness, but of something else. Joy, perhaps. Happiness. Delight. So I did what we usually do when we wonder what’s going on with our bodies: I went to the Internet and checked out what WebMD had to say about why we cry. Some doctor from somewhere said that tears weren’t always signs of sadness, but could be about something else: “People cry in response to something of beauty. I [would] use the word ‘melting’ [for this]. They are letting go of their guard, their defenses, tapping into a place deep inside themselves.”
Tears as melting.
Tears as a response to grace.
In the 15th century, the English mystic Margery Kempe said that sometimes tears happen “because heaven is so merry,” so joyous. The perception of beauty generates tears.[i] The beauty of warm bread pressed into a palm.
Psalm 63:3, “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” And, in my version: My eyes will praise you, with tears. Your eyes will praise God.
Here’s another, Psalm 63:5, according to my adaptation: “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my eyes praise you with joyful tears.”
I love the story about how our church started—this is one way to tell the story. It goes like this. Some people would get together for a meal during the week, a time of fellowship, sharing life together.
One day they were all gathered at someone’s house, and after they prayed over the meal, they began to serve up the food and soon realized that there weren’t enough forks. And that discovery began the conversation about renting space for fellowship meals and worship. Thus the beginning of this congregation—all because a meal, and a shortage of forks
Psalm 63:5, my version: “My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my eyes praise you with joyful tears.”
Isaiah 55:2, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
One of you told about what it was like to have someone from our church come over with a meal, dinner, and to sit and eat around your table, to fellowship—the meal as a sign of grace, a declaration of God’s care for you, assurance you could eat with your mouth, so real you could taste it.
And you called it Communion. And I can’t help but think of you as the Psalmist, who says: “My soul is satisfied as with a meal, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you.”
[i] Kempe quoted in Margaret R. Miles, A Complex Delight (University of California Press, 2008), 63. I adapted this sentence from Miles: “The perception of beauty likewise generated tears.”