A homily for St. Mark’s Agape Meal
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (July 12, 2020)
Lately I have become increasingly curious about trees. Maybe because I’m at home more and staring into my backyard these days, but also reading the novel The Overstory, by Richard Powers. I highly, highly recommend that book. Reading it changed the way I think about trees and made me wonder much more about the life teeming within and around these fascinating organisms that we pass by every day without giving them much thought.
Take the aspen as an example. I love aspens! The way they quake and quiver. The way its leaves turn yellow in the fall. Elizabeth’s brother and sister-in-law got married in front of an aspen grove in Wyoming six years ago, and during the ceremony I found myself looking more at the trees and not as the couple! Elizabeth and I visited the last last week, and while I was cradling their seven-week-old son, I stared outside the window and watched an aspen tree quake in the wind. It was mesmerizing!
Did you know about or have you visited the Pando aspen grove up in Utah? I haven’t seen it yet but it’s a massive, 106 acre grove in the Fishlake National Forest that’s also called the “trembling giant.” It’s a “clonal colony” (we don’t have time to talk about that since Bailey told me to keep this short) but that basically means the trees have identical genetic material. On the surface, they look like a collection of individual trees but actually it is the world’s largest single organism. The massive 80,000 year-old root system connects all these beautiful trees.
Friends, God has connected us on subterranean levels. Our lives are so deeply intertwined, and interdependent. We may quake in the winds individually or in clusters, but we are all a part of the one organism of the human family.
The same is true for this “patch of trees” that we call St. Mark’s, but also the more far-flung “grove” of the church of Jesus Christ that spans continents, aeons, and cultures. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians called it “the body of Christ,” that wonderful metaphor for unity in difference. The writer of Hebrews went a step further and called it “the great cloud of witnesses.” John, in his first letter to his church, reminded them that they were one family, that they were all God’s children, and that through the Holy Spirit, they were all united in that family through the self-sacrificing love of God’s own son.
And Jesus, when his disciples came to him and said, “Hey, look at all these hungry folks. You should send them into town so they can feed themselves,” replied, “No, you give them something to eat. There’s enough to go around!” Luke tells us that “all ate and were filled.” All, “all who hunger.” Jesus connects them in their common experience of an empty belly, and in God’s desire that all God’s children be fed out of the abundance of creation. Often, when we read these miracle stories in the Bible where Jesus feeds hungry people, or heals sick people, or cleanses a leper, we focus on Jesus’ interaction with that individual. But if we pay close attention, we notice that what Jesus so often does is connect people back together across the lines that separate them, not only feeding, healing, or cleansing someone, but also restoring them to their community in the process.
At this point in 2020, the sense of distance between us is palpable. We may feel isolated and alone. I know I feel disconnected from my loved ones, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, and even myself in the midst of all this. And we might also read or listen to the news of people suffering and dying down the street and around the world — from COVID-19, from racism, from the ills and injustices that have always plagued God’s creation — and think, “That’s got little to do with me.” But at the heart of our faith is a fundamental truth that is both a comfort and challenge: love binds us to one another, even when we might think, act, or pretend otherwise. What affects one affects all, on some level.
Pando, that aspen grove in Utah, by the way, is Latin for “I spread.” The self-offering love of God connects people to one another in ways that we can only begin to perceive, and it is a love that cannot help but spread. In this agape meal, in this feast — whatever we’re eating and drinking, even if we didn’t bring anything to eat and drink — let us taste and touch and see and smell and ultimately give thanks for the gift of our deeply rooted and blessed entanglement.