Sunday, January 6, 2008

Communion in Cairo

About that time, our fearless leader Neal Walls turned and said to Steven and me, "Well, that was the first communion I've ever taken in Africa!" I'm fairly sure that Neal was speaking for at least most of us there at All Saints Cathedral. Today is Christmas Eve for the Eastern Christians, but it was business as usual in our Anglican First Sunday of Epiphany Service. All Saints is the Cathedral for the Archbishop of North Africa and Ethiopia (I think) and is home to expatriates, Sudanese refugees, and tourists from across the globe (We worshiped with a couple living in both London and Cairo [She's a little bit British, and he's a little bit Egyptian], a Kiwi ex-business man turned missionary, and more Norwegians than you can shake a falafel at). But, in the midst of this global diversity (Ooo, diversity! *clasps arms and shudders with glee*), I could not help but be captured by my favorite text from the Didache tugging at my travel-weary brain:

[And pray over the bread of communion:] Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom

In the Call to Worship we spoke in unison: "We come to the light from the four corners of the earth, from the north, from the south, from the east, from the west. But we are all one in Jesus Christ." Even across the vast array of grassy hilltops in our world, the wheat is gathered together to create bread; bread which has the potential to give life, hope, and dignity. Bread which sustains. We ate such bread together with brothers and sisters we had not previously met, with family we never knew we had. To come together in this Cathedral in Cairo we participated in something grand and glorious that I easily forget from time to time-the communion of Christ cannot be contained in one nation or people. It is one thing to say "to all the nations." It is another to say, "for all the nations." Islam teaches that the greatest problem with humans is that we are forgetful, and five times a day the salat is called from the minarets as an invitation for those who bear witness to God to remember what God has done through prayer. The language of memory is heavily intertwined to our conception of communion as Christians. We are called to take and eat as a remembrance to what Christ has done, is continuing, and will finish. We are a forgetful people.

The anthem was sang this morning by a choir of Sudanese refugees singing in their own style and tradition. The rhythm and the melody, so foreign, so distant, so other, sounded as near as the hymns and songs of faith my family reared me on. Worship should be the great equalizer; a foretaste of the balance, peace, and unity of the Kin-dom of God. Sadly, it becomes a war of tastes, a battle of preference, and we forget why we gather together. There is a oneness to our diversity that can just as easily be overlooked. The hospitality of the Egyptians is overwhelming. A few trinkets dropped out of my bag in the bazaar yesterday and a man ran up to give them to me. Seth and I were offered tea in a little store while we shopped. Our Coptic Monk/Tour Guide (The very same with the digital camera and cellphone who said, "We don't ride camels anymore.") offered us tea and coffee and then ended up bring trays full of beans, pitas, and dessert. The streets feel safe and the people smile. Even though we are separated by nationality, color, or in most cases faith, our humanity binds us together and there is a genuine spirit of friendship among our hosts. Neal was certainly right, it was our first communion in Africa. The beautiful secret of this pilgrimage is that we have been in communion with Africa all along.

From Cairo,

No comments: