Out of Many, One
“In my Abba’s house, there are many rooms…”
Jesus, John 14:2
Amid the talk about a national coin shortage, I was looking more closely than I normally do at a quarter I pulled out of my pocket the other day. I’d been hearing the former national motto of the United States, “E pluribus unum”—out of many, one—at the recent political conventions, and was trying to remember if it was still stamped on our coins. It is, on the opposite face that reads “In God We Trust.” That phrase—out of many, one—is an aspirational vision, an idea of our nation as a diverse collection of many cultures and religious traditions and national origins, forged into one people, dedicated to freedom and justice for all.
Of course, given the recent events we’ve witnessed, and the ongoing realities of racial injustice, economic inequality, violence, and a runaway pandemic, we are perhaps more acutely aware than ever of just how far we are from that vision and aspiration. Still, it stands there, much like the words in our founding documents, calling us to live up to its challenge.
In the midst of all the emotions that we’ve been experiencing, in the midst of my own sense of hopelessness sometimes when I watch the news, I’ve been sitting down each week in front of my computer screen on Wednesday evenings to gather with our congregation for a time of prayer, scripture, checking in, and communion. When we come to the moment of sharing in communion, Pastor Dan or I invite those gathered to find some elements that they can use at home. We say each time we gather that it doesn’t really matter exactly what those are, just as long as we are sharing in them together. Then we bless the bread and eat together, and bless the cup and drink together. As we do so, I get to see the faces gathered in the checkerboard on my screen—eating bread, or a saltine, or a graham cracker, or a rice cake, or even a piece of chocolate. Drinking wine, or juice, or tea, or even water. And when we do that, each and every time, it washes over me once again—out of many, one. We may not be in the same place, using the same elements, sitting around the same table. But in that moment, we are bound tightly together as one, sharing in the same Spirit that calls each one of us “beloved.” And in that moment, I’m grateful.
I’ll be overjoyed, of course, when we are back together in the same space again. When we can gather at the same table, share a common loaf and a common cup, hold hands; when I can look you in the face again as I offer you the gifts of God’s grace. But I know that I’ll carry this lesson with me once we’ve returned—that in all our beautiful diversity, God has woven a tapestry that reflects the many places and experiences and blessings that we bring, from all our different tables. Out of the many, God has made a beautiful and unique creation. And the thread that you represent is unique, valuable, and so essential to making the whole come alive. Out of many, one.