Communion and Masonry
Donald E. Brooks
Given by the Reverend Donald E. Brooks, 32°, KCCH, R. W. Grand Chaplain, Grnad Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of Tennessee, for the Maundy Thursday service at the Memphis Tennessee Scottish Rite bodies, 4 April, 1996
"This is the hour of banquet and of song; This is the heavenly banquet spread for me; Here let me feast, and feasting, still prolong the brief, bright hour of fellowship with thee."
These words were among some lines written by Horatius Bonar in the mid 1800's.
Little did Bonar know when he wrote those words that the concept of the banquet meal of springtime was not a recent so-called Christian religious innovation bespeaking the night known as "The Night of the Last Supper," wherein a meal was eaten by an itinerant Rabbi and his school of followers in an upper room. Indeed, that was sprung from the then two thousand year old religious custom of the Jewish Passover, celebrating religious and personal freedom.
But the Jewish people were not the only, nor necessarily even the first to celebrate the springtime with a great feast. The Persian cultus of Mithrais, the Hindu worshipers in the sub-continent, the followers of the Enlightened One, called "The Buddha" in the Orient, the Pueblo dwelling Native Americans, the Eskimo of the Artic, the Sun worshipers of the Aztec and their cousins in the Central American isthmus, all had great banquets and feasts to celebrate the return of spring. The sun began its ascent into the heavens again, bringing with it the warmth and life-giving rays which brought new life from the earth. It renewed the vigor of the people, and ressured them of their food supply for another year. Their God was gracious.
What could they give to their god for the goodness which had been manifested upon them by bringing them through the cold and dead time of winter? Some gave blood sacrifices, occasionally human, the bodies buried in the rough sands of the sea. Some gave sacrifices of the last of grain, wine, and oils, their life's wages, which had been stored and would soon by God's grace be renewed. Some gave great parties to which the gods were cordially invited. This sometimes included exhuming bodies or figures of imortant personages, bringing them closer to their houses of worship for reburial or to be made honored guests, and who spiritually supped as creator with creatures.
So it is, down through the millennia, humanity in the realization of her status on the ladder of existence, has sought ways to enter into co-existence, even eternal co-existence with the ultimate powers which have created, shaped and formed, and, in the final analysis, in truth, control the forces of all nature, supernature, and universal destiny.
We have been nurtured in this inborn act of worship by wanting to share with our gods the basic means of human existence: food, drink, shelter, warmth, and companionship. We have always suspected that our gods have wished to share these things with us, especially as we understand that we have them by the wilful act of that deity which made them, made us, and put us together.
Now before everyone begins to thing tonight that this Christian priest has "gone over the edge" and espoused pantheism and has downgraded the two great religions which are most represented here, Judaism and Christianity, let me quickly say that some may see here some of the teaching of our great fraternity. Also, let me say that I believe the teaching in the Eighteenth Degree of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, which says, as do the tenets of many important teachers of Christianity and Judaism, that all religions contain rays of the Truth. Truth, as we say, is the light which emanates from God. And who is "God"? God is the ultimate foundation of all existence; that being from whom all being flows. Our religious persuasions are based upon the accidents of birth, education, circumstances. However, isn't it interesting that at the core of our need to worship, we express our basic needs in such similar ways? Perhaps, down through the aeons, our God has been trying to tell us something very important.
This talk is intended to be centered around the spring time custom of sharing. Most especially, it is to be centered on the religious aspects of sharing the banquet of bread and wine in the Holy Meal which Jews, Christians, and others partake in their homes and houses of religion. It is also to look at what it just might mean to Scottish Rite Masons.
The Eskimo in the far north and the Bantu in darkest Africa realize that whether there is an image of their God before them or not, that image is only a rough approximation of their Most Blessed One. At any given time or place, the only way to offer to their God a gift of value is to offer from his creation through his creation. That is, to offer what we have to those who can use it, in honor of our God's graciousness to us. Another way to say this is to honor our fellow being as a living image of our Deity. Now, I am quite aware that there are some of you out there who are not exactly my idea of God, I hate to suggest it, but I suspect that I do not fulfill your idea of God very well either. Our religions teach that we are made in the image of God. We are made as thinking, creative, love-capable, interactive beings who can contemplate our past, realize the present, and build and plan for a future. Unfortunately, our own wills and basest desires sometimes smudge the Deity's image in us, and we no longer reflect that holy light into that part of the cosmos in which we are placed.
But, there is help. Not as a plan of personal "salvation," but rather as a means, a tool of aiding us to be wiser, better, and therefore happier men, we have been "called into," if you will, the oldest fraternity of its type in the world, in order to learn to subdue our personal passions, and to improve ourselves in our daily lives.
To do this, we share ourselves with each other. We take the time to come together to share the teaching or tenets of our Order. We lean the basic truths and listen as others repeat them to us. I was a public school teacher for nearly twenty years, I can tell you that to listen to a schoolchild reciting the various things he was to have learned in class over tha last week can be a tedious task of love. To want to correct or to say "Please. quit that. My dog can do better," is almost too much. Yet, to sit and give attention to the struggles of the scholar as he breaks new ground first in the mind, then in the heart and life is truly to enter into a sharing with that student. To visit a home and discover that the student's poor behavior is a cover-up for lack of love and discipline in the home, is to share oneself in understanding. To visit them when they are in the hospital, or to go to the most boring baseball or basketball game just to give moral support to that kid who is beginning to trust and rely upon you is to enter into a new and devine sharing. But, we are "called" to be sharers.
The Roman soldier was given a ration of bread. It was hardly enough for one, at times. Yet, when fast friends were made in the legions, the soldiers would, in a pinch, break the hard round loaves of bread, called 'pan' in Latin, into bits and share with the one friend whom they trusted the most. This was the one who would not let them down in the hard times. This was the one who would not stab them in the back physically or socially should the opportunity arise. This was the one to whom they could go with confidence for comfort and advice. This was to share their only means of eating, their only sustenance. That is why they call the friend a 'companion', as they were bread sharers.
The early Jew saw bread not only as a means for gaining sustenance by eating it, but is became the vessel by which the food was eaten as well. Large loaves would be hollowed and thick stews would be ladled into the cavity. The bits of bread removed would then be used to sop the juices and to grab bits of meat and vegetable as if they were forks and spoons. This custom is still followed today at parties when hollowed "Hawaiian Bread and Spinach Dip" are served. We also see the Italian version of this in the well-known Pizza, or the Mexican version call the Taco.
What of all this, bread as vessel, bread as sharing, bread as life? When one shares the bread and the cup of refreshment, one enters into covenant with one's fellow sharers. One becomes brother, father, son and friend, One shares his own life's necessities with the other and risks that they will share back in open, loving and supportive giving. That is what the Holy Communion really is.
"To soon we rise; we go our several ways; the feast, though not the love, is past and gone, the Bread and Wine consumed" yet all our days thou still art here with us — our Shield and Sun." (Horatius Bonar)
To the Jewish brother, the feast of bread and wine is the long line of friends and relatives who have crossed the Reed Sea from slavery to freedom, and by eating, he too has identified himself with that band of frightened, fleeing, but freedom loving people. The Christian brother identifies himself with the little band of followers of a gentle teacher who was willing to work diligently to free men's minds and souls from dark despair and political and religious bondage, while offering himself as martyred sacrifice, and to all who have followed after. To the Scottish Rite Mason, it may be all of these, and yet more. Whether they were members of our Order or members of other like-minded groups over the centuries who banded together to make the world a safer, better and more enlightened place, we have become the inheritors of the task of great men of all ages. We are called to offer ourselves as moral and intellectual, educational and social supports to each other and to our world. We are called to eat the bread of brotherhood which binds us indelibly in spirit and in truth to those great men who came before us, some centuries ago, some only recently. Many we have only heard of, some we never knew. Some are well-known to us in our own memories. Though their bodies are laid to rest, yet we still bind ourselves in the mystic communion of the bread and wine to them and their work. We bind ourselves to each other, to love, honor and support each other as well. We bind ourselves to strive for freedom, for peace and justice and honor for all men everywhere, regardless of creed, or color or any other false divider. We bind ourselves in honor and devotion and strive to live in such a way that our world will have been a better place for our corporate as well as personally having walked this way.
"Feast after feast thus comes and passes by, yet, passing, points to the glad feast above, giving us foretaste of the festal joy, the Lamb's great holy feast of bliss and love." (Horatius Bonar)
Now why do we have this banquet in the spring? This is the time of bursting forth of new life. This is the renewal of the face of the earth. Let us, therefore, enter into the spring of the year no matter what our age in years, and let us spring forth in new life and new devotion toward the ideals of the brotherhood and companionship to which we have eaten, and devoted ourselves, redevoting and rededicating ourselves to new life, new love and new vision.