“New!” the carton hinted, as I perused the grocery aisles. Easy to miss it, tucked away in the upper corner: red Nabisco logo on a sunny yellow background. It announced “smaller stacks that make it even easier to enjoy…”. Great!, I thought. At last, they’re packaged the way I use them – as squares, rather than perforated rectangles that always seem to wind up in crumbles when I try to crack them apart.
At home, I open the box and a can of cream-cheese frosting. I pull two squares out of the bag and spread one with frosting, and top it with another cracker. (As far as I’m concerned, this is the *only right way* to eat graham crackers.) The process seems strangely familiar, like an old ritual. I suddenly recall that this is the way graham crackers were sold when I was young – as squares. I bite into the frosting sandwich. Oh, the heavenly contrast of taste and texture!
Childhood memories come flooding in and I am transported back through the years. The crackle of the heavy, brown, waxed paper packaging as Mom deftly opened the bag. The fresh batch of white icing she had just mixed up. The Oneida knife to spread it (part of a set she bought piece-by-piece with S&H green stamps), the cast-iron, wood-fired cookstove, with chrome trim and attached water heater tank, the linoleum-covered countertops, nearly worn through in places, the matching floor covering, the light-green walls, the wood-pile, and the only thing new in that room – a 1950s chrome dinette table with a shiny, smooth, grey formica top (except for the blister where I’d set a hot pan once – and hoped no one would notice!).
As I finish the crackers, I reflect on the wonderful, vivid memories that are wrapped up in the foods I've loved all my life. Times around that chrome and formica table with family and friends. Holiday dinners when we feasted in a way we couldn't afford the rest of the year. The sliced rainbow ice-cream or lemon meringue pie as a special dessert when company came. Family reunion feasts at my grandparents’ house. A few disagreeable memories, like the time I had to run vomiting from the dinner table at a friend's house.
My parents never argued at the table, and Dad always gave Mom a huge, romantic kiss before they sat down. (I swear that sometimes her left leg would bend up behind her!) I know that my siblings and I quibbled, but that is not what I recall. I recall the fun times and the special times. It was a time for six, very different people, united in one family, to catch up and bond with one another as we enjoyed a delicious meal.
The frosted crackers reunite me with my childhood and family, and, in a way, unite me with all other children and families who enjoyed the same treat, and with all who will enjoy it far into the future.
This all makes me think of times around the communion table at church. At churches where I have served as organist, the congregants file up the center aisle to take a thin wafer, place it in their mouth (where it clings stubbornly to the tongue, resisting all efforts to swallow it), drink the wine from the common cup, then file back to their seats via the side aisle.
It moves me, because as I accompany the hymns, I can see each person receiving communion one at a time, and think about the joy they bring to my life and about the challenges they face in their lives. At one church, when people returned to their seats they had to pass the organ, and often shared a fond glance with me, or a hug, or a pat on the shoulder. That was how I learned why the church celebrates communion (as opposed to oppressive silence with dirgeful music in the background). It is a celebration of Jesus' life, work, and teachings, and of the freedom granted to us all through that. It is a celebration in community, a reminder that not one of us is better than the other. We all are equal at this feast, and all are welcome.
As we share the weekly feast at church, with the same ritual and the same prayers over the bread and wine, the familiarity frees us to contemplate our lives and takes us back through the years to other feasts, with other “families” we have gathered through the years.
In my congregations I've often had to play organ for funerals, usually of older members who have become very dear to me, sometimes of someone taken far too young. During communion, as the people proceed, I can sense the departed filing by, also, with a peaceful smile and a whisper of a hug. I learned that the "communion of saints" meant that when we commune, we do so not solely with the people in our community, but with all who have gone before us, and with all who will come after us – the greatest feast of all.
We come to this feast as we are, honestly, with no pretense and airs. One hopes we walk away from the feast with that same attitude. At this table, we leave our squabbles behind. We see beyond our present troubles, fears, and heartaches. As we leave the table we celebrate what we have together in unity and love. Just like a family.