It might surprise some folks that the inimitable Walter Cronkite once hosted a Saturday morning television series. Having transitioned from its beginning as a radio series during the late 1940s, the CBS television series ran from 1953 to 1957. Weekly broadcasts centered around historical events illustrated with dramatic re-enactments. The show was titled You Are There and was broadcast for just over five seasons.
The show usually began with a voiceover from Cronkite and once he had set the scene, eerie music played and another voice spoke (from within an echo-chamber) YOU ARE THERE. (A sample YouTube video provides the spine-tingling effect.)
Today, I’ve been thinking about an historic event based on the You Are There concept. I invite you to “view” it with me.
The setting is feast time and a group of people have come together to enjoy this time of annual celebration. The host sits at a prominent place with his friends surrounding him. Food has been served and everyone’s relaxing around the table, interacting, laughing, enjoying their food and drink. As hosts are wont to do, this one eventually speaks up and at the sound of his voice, the others perk an ear to listen. He tells them how much he’s looked forward to having this meal … celebrating this feast … with them.
No doubt they respond as one, raising their cups in agreement. It was a good day and it will be a good night. The brotherhood of friends is sweet!
But then something changes. The host tells them he is about to suffer and this is his last occasion to share a meal with them until …?! The others around the table are puzzled by their host’s cryptic announcement, but he doesn’t give them time to ask questions or ponder his statement.
Those gathered all have their eyes turned on him and the room is so quiet, they can hear their host’s softest voice. He raises a cup of wine and passes it around the table. He continues with only a momentary pause, breaking a portion of bread into pieces which he passes around, urging them to eat it … he says mysteriously, this is my body (signifying the broken morsels of bread). Then once again, this individual lifts a second cup of wine and proceeds to tell them this substance represents his blood poured out for them.
Remember: You’re there. You witness this unusual scene, a celebratory feast suddenly turned sober with talk about suffering and blood. Talk about a buzz-kill!
Bread. Wine. Prosaic objects. Certainly common objects at feast-times. Often described as the staff of life, bread (in all its infinite varieties) is a staple. Wine was also a staple in those days where water purification was less reliable.
Except for the host, those gathered have no clue for what the rest of the week will bring. They’re oblivious. They eat the bread and wine as they’ve always eaten it, food for nourishment, wine for enjoyment. But their host’s reference to the bread as his body, the wine as his blood … what? What does he mean?!
You are there. You’re able to observe the puzzlement on their faces, the quizzical looks they exchange, wondering exactly what it is their host has revealed to them. You’re there. What do you think? [Because the events are recorded in the Gospels, we have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story, details that had yet to happen to those actually sitting around the table. Only later did the events of that night take on a clearer focus for them.]
They were there. Recalling his comment brought clarity later. When we eat our bread and drink our wine, we remember him, we remember that somber occasion when he told us what would happen. As they look back in retrospect, all of the events begin to make sense for them.
You are there. Raise a morsel of bread or a cup of wine to your mouth. As you consume these ordinary provisions, you’re sustained in your body. How about in your soul? You are there.