In my former home parish of Saint Michael, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, I incorporated a stylized wheat and grapevine motif into the walls’ adornment. While they are a lovely choice visually, the real beauty is in their meaning.
Grapes and wheat are food plants, but significantly and especially, they produce food which is then changed into other food! Grapes are squeezed into a juice. This juice then has a secret ingredient added to it. The juice plus its secret ingredient is then transformed into something extra special…wine.
An identical thing happens to wheat. Wheat grains are ground into the powder, flour. Flour is mixed with water plus another secret ingredient. This mixture is then baked into a lovely doughy mystical delight…bread.
People who give serious contemplation to the various stages of the process of wine and bread production often find themselves at a place where they have no other recourse than to be in awe that wine and bread even exist. First there is the miracle of a plant bearing fruit. Then there is the miracle of these things turning into something quite different yet still the same. Even though we now know about the microorganism, yeast, the delight and mystery of it all is not diminished.
By considering the simple beauty of the simple food which is bread and wine and how these two food are foods that exist because of mystery and God’s goodness, we can see how it is such a delightful thing that these are the elements that God has chosen to be a part of that even greater mystery which is Holy Communion. Bread and wine, two foods already transformed from wheat and grapes, are transformed AGAIN, when Christ offers Himself to us in the Eucharistic meal.
So what does this have to do with all of the Saints that are adorned with the grapevine at my former parish in Greensburg? Why does the vine weave from Christ (represented by a central Cross) into and through all of the Saints? It is because the Saints are connected to Christ and they are connected to Christ by Communion. Communion is represented at Saint Michael’s Church by the grapevine and wheat sheaves. THAT is the meaning of the theme of grapevines and wheat!
Sometimes it is nice to mull over the impact of the meaning of this by looking at it backwards. By this, I mean to look at it from the Saints to Christ, instead of from Christ to the Saints. If we consider all the Saints, not merely the ones depicted at Greensburg, an interesting and at first maybe even troubling picture develops. Many of these Saints have nothing in common. There are pacifist Saints and warrior Saints. Infant Saints and multi-centenarian Saints. There are Saints who were clothed in royal raiment and Saints who were naked. Saints who spoke eloquently and Saints who didn’t say a word. Women Saints. Men Saints. Leaders. Followers. Writers. Illiterates. Married folks. Monks. Kings. Paupers. Clergy. Laity. Lifetime strugglers. Last-minute repenters.
An array of people like this, which seem to have nothing in common, and even seem, at times, to be at odds with one another makes for a very challenging portrait of The Church! This hodgepodge group is THE Church? That this is true is a mystery even greater than wheat kernels being transformed into bread! The mystery touches us personally, and we get an inkling of it when we engage in a conversation with the person standing next to us on any given Sunday morning.
We are all unique, but there is a link between all of the oddity and uniqueness of the Saints. That connector is Communion. Communion, Eucharist, Wine and Bread are the things portrayed in the Grape and Wheat motif of Saint Michael’s Greensburg. The motif emphasizes a lesson that each of us is connected to each other…WHEN we are connected to Christ in the Eucharist! Through Communion, each of us, in our own unique, individual selves is joined, just as it is depicted in Greensburg artwork, to the person standing beside us in church. Even more wonderful is the knowledge that we the living are also joined to the Saints in Heaven. All of us, the living and the departed saints, are connected…through the Common cup of the Eucharist.
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