Homemade grape juice is better than bottled, Darlene Riley figures, so she makes enough for every congregation in her district to take home for love feast. Her family has a small vineyard, and she’s been bringing the communion juice to Missouri/Arkansas District Conference for at least four years.
At the end of the last growing season, it happened that Eldon Coffman preached at her congregation, New Hope Church of the Brethren in Wynne, Ark. Riley asked him to say a blessing over the grapes that would be made into communion juice. After the service and a fellowship meal, he and everyone else pitched in to stem the fruit. And then, shortly before district conference, Brother Eldon, a longtime saint of the district, passed away—bringing particular poignancy to that year’s sharing of the juice.
At district conference there’s other fruit too. Riley brings Opal Andrews’ canned peaches along with preserves made by two friends from the local farmers’ market. The proceeds from those jars are donated to the global mission work of the Church of the Brethren—meaning that those Arkansas peaches travel very far indeed.
At love feast, can you taste the sun and wind of the vineyard? The labors of the generous gardener? The sweet blessing of the hands of the helpers? Can you feel the connection between Arkansas and Venezuela, between Haiti and Nigeria? Can you see the vine that connects us all? Can you drink in this mystic sweet communion?
During holy week, as you prepare for the mystery of resurrection, immerse your senses in these words from Brethren poet Ken Morse (Hymnal Supplement, no. 1068):
In seeking, in silence we wait and we listen,
while joining our hands as our thoughts move in prayer.
We watch for the mystery that fills us with wonder;
we know God has promised to be with us here.
Together we follow the movement of music;
together our hearts are alerted to joy.
The warmth of our sharing, the touch of our caring
will strengthen the faith that no fear can destroy.
While taking the bread and the cup overflowing,
we sit at a table that circles the earth.
We drink from the springs that sustain and renew us
where God offers wholeness and quenches our thirst.
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.