I missed serving today

Sunday Evening

LALC.img_9473-breadI couldn’t serve communion today and I missed it. I am at the tail end of a cold and didn’t want to risk coughing with bread in my hands and people’s open hands before me. But I wanted to serve today. It is not a task to me; it is a privilege. The word of grace in the sermon, the song of praise in the prayers, the grace made visible in the bread, it is all part of the movement of God to embrace us and draw us into his grace and life. So to preach the sermon and say the prayers but not serve the meal is a sacrifice for me.  The only metaphor I can think of is getting the present and wrapping the present, but not being there to see it opened. But it is deeper than that, more profound. Something about the link between heaven and earth and all creation that is present in the bread.

So I sat at the side and watched, which is wonderful, too. The collection of people. The children who run forward and the seniors who walk cautiously. The hesitation about whether there is still room at the rail to kneel. Families that try to be together as they receive.

I don’t understand it all. I just know it is there. Deep and abiding. All the best power of ritual – an act that connects us through time and space with one another and something larger than ourselves.

And all the rich layers of meaning. Story upon story are woven into the sharing of bread. Israel receiving manna in the wilderness. The five loaves and two fish feeding five thousand. The bread broken at the Last Supper. Elijah nourished by the angel on his journey to Sinai. Abraham beseeching the three heavenly visitors. Moses and the seventy breaking bread with God on Mount Sinai. There are more stories than we can name.

And all the rich layers of human experience that are tied up in the sharing of bread. Family meals at Thanksgiving, festive banquets at birthday parties, a sandwich purchased for a homeless man, a lunch shared in the second grade, first dates at an ice-cream parlor, wedding banquets be they elegant or baked ziti in a VFW hall – it is all woven into this moment where the promise that God will bring the day when all are gathered at one table is made visible, and the call to live in and from that promise is spoken in a message deeper than words.

Something profound happens with the giving and receiving of this bread, something more than I can explain. There is no other word to use than ‘holy’. What happens is sacred.   Even when we don’t see it.

But I know it’s there. And I missed not being able to serve.

What comes from within

Watching for the Morning of August 30, 2015

Year B

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 17 / Lectionary 22

File:Yemenite boy washing hands, December 5, 1949.jpgThe voice of Moses in the reading from Deuteronomy on Sunday will call us to “give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe.” But Deuteronomy calls us to more than an outward observance; it calls us into the spirit of God’s instructions and commands. It celebrates the wisdom and justice of God’s law. And it understands that the life of the community depends on observing this law, of living within God’s will for justice and mercy.

The psalmist joins that song, describing those who are welcome in God’s holy house not in terms of ritual purity, but in language of fidelity to neighbor: those who speak truth, do justice, and show mercy to the poor.

James, too, sings of the life lived in accordance with God’s word: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

It is so easy for religion to slide into a narrow legalism, by which we are able to imagine ourselves faithful without ever actually living by the Spirit of God: the spirit of compassion, generosity, kindness, justice, truth, courage. Jesus is attacked because some of his followers haven’t observed the ritual washing of hands before eating. This is not a real hand washing related to concerns about germs, but a ritual pouring of water over the hands with an accompanying prayer. It is like someone eating without saying grace. Is the ritual blessing of a meal a measure of the true Christian or are we summoned to live within the spirit of thanksgiving that receives all things as gift from God? Outward forms have their importance in teaching and sustaining the inner life – but the point is the inner life. And by inner life it is important that we recognize we are speaking not only of the individual, but of the spirit that abides in the community. One generous person is good. A community of generosity is the intent of God.

The question what is truly means to be “clean” – to be acceptable before God, to be worthy to enter God’s presence – is deeply important. And Jesus will not let us narrow the definition to ritual practice. He insists that we recognize the will of God for a community that honors God in all things – from the food we eat to the food we share from hearts that are at least seeking to be loving and true.

The Prayer August 30, 2015

Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shadow of change:
be our lamp in the darkness
and our eternal rock,
that we may worship you rightly
with lives of compassion and truth;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 30, 2015

First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
“What other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?” – Deuteronomy is presented as a sermon of Moses to the people of Israel at the end of the forty years in the wilderness in which the community is urged to observe God’s wise and just laws.

Psalmody: Psalm 15
“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?”
– The poet asks who is worthy to enter the holy precinct of the temple – and answers it not in terms of ritual purity, but the just and faithful treatment of others.

Second Reading: James 1:17-27
“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
– The author reminds the community that God calls for our inner and outward lives to be aligned and in harmony with the message we have hear from God.

Gospel: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
“There is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” – The religious leaders challenge Jesus because some of his followers didn’t observe the ritual washing before eating. It prompts his teaching on purity – not as on outward observance, but the words and deeds that flow from the heart.

 

Image: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Yemenite_boy_washing_hands,_December_5,_1949.jpg

Jesus Liberation Front

Thursday

blog.elements.Palm Sunday1 Corinthians 11 (A Maundy Thursday text)

23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” It is so easy to think of the Holy Communion as a religious ritual. However meaningful we may or may not find it, however deeply spiritual, however healing or renewing, our eyes tend to see ‘church’ rather than Jesus. This is something people do. This is something religious organizations do inside a religious building presided over by religious professionals dressed in religious robes.

No. “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”

Two thousand years of tradition may stand in between Jesus and ourselves. These robes were once the ancient equivalent of blue jeans. Perhaps upscale blue jeans – but still, common everyday dress. The colored stole around the pastor’s neck is affected by the ornamental styles of the ancient and modern world – but it may have started with the towel the deacon put around his neck after washing feet. It is understandable that everyday items used for sacred purposes become objects of special care and beauty. When I have guests for dinner, I use my best wine glasses, not the cheap everyday ones. I use my nicest serving dish. I get out cloth napkins instead of handing out paper towels. So this banquet of Holy Communion now involves items of beauty and distinction. But we all know that we can use hamburger buns and a cafeteria water glass of two-buck chuck if we need to and Christ will still be present. Because this isn’t a religious ritual; “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”

Of course Paul received it from Jesus and handed it on to Timothy who handed it on to Polycarp who handed it on to generation after generation – but it all goes back to Jesus and that last night with his followers.

It connects us through time with Jesus.  It connects us now with Jesus.

There was a time when gathering to break this bread was like gathering in the Soviet empire to read Solzhenitsyn. It was a radical and revolutionary act. In whispers we say the words that speak of the end of every Rome and the dawning of God’s reign. In whispers we are members of the Jesus Liberation Front, knowing that the supreme act of violence could not stop this Jesus. That we are members of his household. That he is present among us. That he breathes upon us his spirit, his love, his courage, his strength, his grace. That he will one day be manifest to all and all heaven and earth will be governed in harmony with his spirit, in union with his perfect grace and love.

Rich and poor, noble and serf, slave and free, Judean and Gentile, “Parthians, Medes and Elamites,” Arab and Israeli and American and Hindi, black and white, this amazing gathering of all people recognizing themselves sisters and brothers in one household of God, declaring by their very existence – and by this act of breaking bread together – that Christ has died, is risen and will come again.

Words of power. Words of hope. Words of transformation. Words of rebellion and resistance to the world as it is. Words of love. Words that connect us with the source and goal of life. “I received from the Lord what I am here handing over to you.”