Little lower

God forbid that I should meet
an angel face to face: the many eyes
would terrify, the beating wings
might stop my heart; how would
I hear their, “Do not fear,”
let alone what may follow?

Send me instead the dragonfly, fierce
but fragile, anointing the surface
of the water with love; yet who am I to curate
the messengers of God, although
you have made me wonderfully and
fearfully a little lower than the angels?

My eyes are short-sighted, my words fumbled,
my wings, the costume of childhood nativities,
were only ever clip-ons; God forbid
that I should meet an angel face to face,
let alone courageously proclaim to
the other, “Do not be afraid.”


Michaelmas, 2021
See: Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 10, Hebrews 2, Psalm 8, Psalm 139, etc

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Envy is the enemy of the gospel

A sermon for Sunday, September 26 at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid. In the readings, disciples of Moses and Jesus object to unauthorized deployment of the Spirit. In the news, images of border patrols chasing immigrants with horses, and yet more gun violence in our streets and stores.

It is no accident that it is just after the disciples’ argument over which of them might be the greatest that they fall into this dispute about who has the right to cast out demons in the name of Jesus. They have not yet learned the lesson that Jesus tried to teach them through the child. They have not yet realized that it is better to heal the world than to wield power over it. “If we can’t lord it over one another,” they reason, “we can at least set ourselves up over and against the rabble that surrounds us!” Envy is a powerful and unhelpful human emotion.

But Jesus is not threatened by the idea of sharing his power and influence. He is ready for the salvation of the whole world, by all means and all messengers that will bring the gospel, the good news of God’s Christ, to bear upon those who need it. He is there for the casting out of demons, and the recovery of life and hope. He is not afraid that his name will lose its power if too many people confess it.

Jesus’ namesake, Joshua, was jealous for his own gift of anointing when Moses shared his prophetic spirit with the seventy elders. When the young men, Eldad and Medad, expressed the same spirit, Joshua asked Moses to stop them, since they had not been explicitly invited to prophesy as the seventy had. But Moses, like Jesus, had insight into the abundance of God’s grace, and knew that it cannot run out by being shared; nor will it be suppressed by our stinginess.

Envy is the enemy of the gospel and a stumbling block to grace. Jealousy for our borders makes us cruel. Fear of running out of freedom and opportunity for all makes us selfish for our own. The fragility of our own status, as believing ourselves to be beloved of God and of one another, cracks open our relationships too easily, and leaves us with sharp edges.

We see its fruits in the whips of the overseers, transported from another century into our own, we could barely believe our eyes, and yet our hearts knew the truth, and were in some cases complicit.

We see envy’s rotten fruit in the violence that stalks our own streets, and the suspicion which divides a neighbour from the love that they are owed.

We see it in systems of supremacy that, loudly or subtly, prop up the privilege of those who have it and close the doors against those who do not, instead of dismantling the scaffold that keeps an uneven and unequal edifice propped up.

But Moses said, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

And Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Whoever is not against us is for us. The people who have come to our borders because they believe that they will find some good here, who believe in the good things we say about ourselves, they are for us; and should we turn against them?

It is no accident that this situation occurs right after the disciples’ dispute over who is the greatest. Nor is it any great coincidence that it occurs not long after they failed to cast out the demon from a boy tormented by it, whose father appealed to Jesus for help. The disciples are stung by what they cannot do and jealous of those to whom it seems to come more easily. Their sense of inner greatness is fragile and they are vulnerable to envy.

But they have the privilege that is like no other. They live and breathe and eat and walk with Jesus, the Christ. They know him like no one else. They are part of his morning prayers and his desert retreats and they witness his miracles and they watch him sleep. They will become his church, and they will prophesy, bringing the truth of the gospel to the ends of the earth. They will be salted with fire, with the fire of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost. All except the one whose envy gets the better of him, who betrays the grace of God for a handful of silver and the gratitude and contempt of the authorities.

In the letter of James, it is written,

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. … For where there is envy and selfish ambition there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (James 3:13-14, 16-18)

Jesus tells his disciples, whose direct spiritual descendants we are, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Have salt in yourselves, knowing the worth that Christ has placed upon you and within you. Put no stumbling block before justice, and do not seek to cast out mercy, do not be jealous for God’s loving-kindness, but have peace in the knowledge that God is love.

We have privilege like no other. We have the Body of Christ among us and within us, and we are a part of him. We need no selfish ambition to make ourselves great when we have the great commandments, to love God with all of our being and our neighbours as ourselves, to sustain us and to guide us; when we have the love of God within us and among us, salt in ourselves.

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets,” said Moses. Have salt in yourselves, and prophesy peace.

 

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Who is the greatest?

A sermon for Sunday, September 19th, 2021. Readings include Psalm 54 and Mark 9:30-37


“They argued with one another who was the greatest.”

Who is the greatest? Does the Episcopal Church preach greater truth than the Baptists? Are the Cleveland Browns greater than the Houston Texans? Does God love America more than Afghanistan, or China? Would our democracy indeed elect the Unnameable God, or the Christ, to preside over even the kingdom of heaven?

When Jesus asked his disciples what they had been discussing, they didn’t like to answer, because they knew that it would only lead to more awkward questions. They were afraid to ask him what he meant about going to Jerusalem and dying there, and the ultimate victory of life over death, of love over power. And so he took a child, not his, and set it in the midst of them, and bid them welcome it, accommodate it, serve it.

Sometimes, we feel awkward baring our questions and doubts, arguments and emotions before God. We pretend that we can hide them, but Jesus knew what his disciples were debating, and he answered them anyway. If we were raised not to answer back to our parents, nor to show anger to our elders, we might not dare to face God with our grief and our frustration and our pain. Yet the one who formed us knows us, inside and out, as it says in the Psalms (see Psalm 139).

Sometimes, when people find it difficult to know how to pray difficult and dangerous emotions, I send them to the Psalms; “every emotion is covered by them,” I tell them, “and you can borrow the words of our spiritual ancestors – the words of the Bible, authorized for use in conversation with God – to cover your own experience.”

The flipside of that is that I am not always comfortable praying the Psalms when they express emotions that I do not want to experience, or admit to.

Take today’s reading from Psalm 54. In the version offered by our Book of Common Prayer, verse seven invites God, orders God, to render evil against my enemies. It is not my understanding that God creates or commits evil, even at my most earnest request.

I consulted a few translations and commentaries. Some have the same squeamish response as I do, and translate the evil as coming from my enemies: “[God] will repay my enemies for their evil” (NRSV). Another introduces some divinely-appointed karma: “Let evil recoil on those who slander me” (NIV). Yet another calls the evil that is called down, “pay back”.[i]

Perhaps it is ok for me to pray after all, then, since payback, or vengeance, is the remit of God, and not of me; perhaps offering my secret impulses of anger and resentment back to God for divine discernment and judgement, giving them to God to sort out, is a good call. And if someone else happens to be praying the same verse against me, then it is in God’s hands.

Because I am no greater than my enemy; I am no more beloved of God than my neighbour; I am created no closer to the image of God than the face that I love the least. 

The disciples were afraid to ask Jesus what he meant, and they were afraid to let on to him what they had been arguing about, and after all this time in his company, how could they not trust him yet with their doubts and their discomfort and their souls?

So he took a child, and placed it among them, and bid them welcome it.

Children are always asking questions. They will ask Jesus why, and they will ask follow-up questions, and they will not be satisfied until he has laid out for them the whole plan of heaven, to redeem and restore the world, the creation, our humanity to what God intended for us when God looked upon us and called us good.

And the child will ask us why we are arguing over who is the greatest, and what greatness means, when God is in all and over all, and God’s love is made manifest in the childhood, the humanity, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And when we are afraid to ask God the hard questions, or afraid to share with Jesus the doubts and dangerous emotions of our hearts, he welcomes us like little children, asking out of our ignorance and innocence, and he answers us with his embrace.

For God does not render evil, but renders evil moot, and answers even death with the irrepressible life of the gospel.

If we are, in fact, no greater than our enemies; no more beloved of God than our neighbours; if we are created no more closely upon the image of God than those whom we personally would like to love the least; if all of that is true, then neither are you any less, in the sight of God, than those who are greatest in the eyes of the world. And the least of us is welcomed, as God’s own child, into the heart of Christ’s embrace.

Amen


[i] Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A translation with commentary, Volume 3, The Writings (NY: W.W. Norton, 2019), 138

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Opportunist

Robin alighted as soon as I mowed the first swathe of grass, 

an aspiring scavenger sifting the cuttings for prey.

Undeterred by the turning blade, it tilted an eye 

as though to say, we are not so different, you and I,

pretending greatness all while devouring

the remains of a fallen creation.



This Sunday’s Gospel reading wonders about the true nature of greatness …


Image: American Robin by Ken Thomas (detail), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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But who do you say that I am?

This poem was first published at the Episcopal Cafe


When Christ confronted the demons, they cried out
in loud voices and with forked tongues,
“We know who you are, Holy One, Son of God,
hope of the nations and light of the world!”
And he bid them be silent. [i]

Some said he was a prophet.[ii]
Some said he had a demon.[iii]
Some said he should not go around saying
that the Son of Man must suffer,
but he had already had that conversation
with the devil in the wilderness;
he recognized the forked tongue twisting in Peter’s mouth.[iv]

“Who do you say that I am?” he asks us,[v]
and it is not enough to recognize,
to idolize,
to pay homage with forked tongue and fractured loyalties.

It is not enough
to say who he is, unless
we will become whom he has called us to become.

The rich will hunger to turn over tables,[vi]
the joyful will drown out the songs of the stones,[vii]
the hawks will hang up their talons
and eat olives offered by the dove,[viii]
the princes and powers will burn their thrones to
warm the hearts of the people.[ix]

“A broken and contrite heart you will not despise.”[x]The body bending under the weight of grief,
slung crosswise along the shoulders,
will find a lighter yoke in love.[xi]

“Who do you say that I am?” he asked them.
You are my way, my truth, my life.[xii]
If I am slow to follow, wait for me, reach back to me.
If I am hard of understanding, be patient with me.
Bind my heart to yours, that I may hear the rhythm of your passion.
Let the rest be silence.




[i] See Mark 1:23-26; [ii] Mark 8:27-28; [iii] Mark 3:22; [iv] Mark 8:31-33; Matthew 4:5-7; [v] Mark 8:29; [vi] See Luke 1:53; John 2:13-18; [vii] See Luke 19:37-40; [viii] See Isaiah 11:7; Genesis 8:8-11; [ix] See Luke 1:52; [x] Psalm 51:17; [xi] See Matthew 11:29-30; [xii] John 14:6

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Vengeance is not ours

A sermon for Sunday, 29 August, 2021


From the cross, Jesus cried out against his executioners, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!” (Luke 23:34)

As though God’s mercy endures even this outrage; as though Christ’s faithfulness to God’s mission of mercy were eternal, and indestructible. As though, even after all that he had been and seen and lived and taught, we still did not quite understand the enormity of God’s steadfast loving-kindness and hope for humankind.

In conversation (read, warm disagreement) with the Pharisees, who were, after all, his own people, Jesus turns to the prophet Isaiah and tells them, 

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ (Mark 7:1-8; Isaiah 29:13)

The irony that this particular scripture, from this particular prophet, shows up in this week’s lectionary is rather terrible; a little too much.

Whether our disagreements are political, petty, religious, personal, or otherwise, when we elevate our own precepts to the level of law, instead of inscribing God’s law on our hearts, we have a tendency to decline into disarray, and even violent disaster.

When I say, “we”, I do not mean in the sense of “us” and “them”. The problem appears to be, tragically, universal. Just this past week we have seen it destroy lives and bodies and families. Those who have elevated their doctrines of terror over the dictates of God, whose prophets have long preached peace have wrought havoc and will no doubt wreak more.

Last week, I preached that when the moment of crisis comes, that is when we are challenged to choose to stay with Jesus, to remain in his footsteps, not to deny his Cross.

In this moment of crisis, the human precepts articulated by we, the people may be revenge and retribution. Yet Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies, pray for their persecutors, forgive their executioners, as he did from the Cross, lamenting our poor understanding of God’s grace.

That does not mean that we accept, let alone condone violence. We do seek to contain it, to protect the vulnerable, which is what the service members who died were doing at the gate, ironically; trying to make an end to this war. But vengeance? That does not belong to us.

It is a problem.

The disagreement that Jesus and the Pharisees had was about proper rituals, the right (rite) way to do things. It was not life and death. It didn’t rise even to the level of our arguments about masks and vaccinations. It was, in the grand scheme, a little thing.

But when we allow even these small things to breed evil intentions in our hearts, to divide us from the humanity of another, we are headed for trouble. Jesus is heading us off, reminding us to stay close to God’s law: the law that begins with loving God, and ends with loving our neighbours as ourselves. To develop and feed habits of the heart and soul that lead to life, rather than to revenge.

And so, as we pray for our armed service members, may we also pray for an end to war. If we pray for those whom our nation lost this week, and those who mourn, may we pray also for the hundreds of Afghans killed on their own soil. If we pray for our loved ones, may we pray also for our enemies. If we pray for victory, may it be for the victory of the kingdom of God, which transcends the human divisions of nations.

And may God continue to have mercy upon us.

Amen.

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What we owe one another

We came to the US on a special visa – one of those “highly qualified” rations awarded to my husband, and we were part of the package. These things do not last forever. Three years later, knowing that we were ready to throw in our lot with Ohio, we applied for green cards.

We were lucky. We had the resources of the firm behind us. Still, there are processes and procedures – and gaps. In order to apply for our green cards, we had to surrender the visas granted under the original agreement to let us into the country. Instead, we were issued “provisional papers”, to be used for travel “only if necessary”.

That was the summer that my mother was dying. Travel was, repeatedly, necessary.

Leaving the country was easy. No one knew quite what to make of my “provisional papers”, but I was on my way out, so it wasn’t much of an issue. Coming home (because yes, home was here; home is where my children sleep and my husband watches endless episodes of culinary competitions on tv and the cats ruck up the rugs) was a little more time-consuming.

If you have been in that line at the airport, you have seen the individuals and families pulled aside, sent to the back room, a cage of windows, to await further scrutiny after the line has been processed and dismissed. If you were in the line, your passport stamped, passed on to customs to collect your bags, you may have wondered what happened to those people in that side room, who they might be, and why they were there.

That was the summer of the side room for me.

For the most part, we were processed separately. I do think that one family was seeking asylum. Then there was, on that last trip, the slightly older (white) man who wanted to enter on a British passport but stay forever (instead of the 90 days allowed without a visa). “I am a veteran!” he kept insisting. “I served in [I think] Vietnam! I am a US citizen!” The immigration guys gathered around his burgundy passport and scratched their heads. Then they shrugged and let him in, indefinitely.

“Look at you, big man harassing a veteran!” one of them teased another.

I was the last one left after the old man. For the third time that summer, the immigration officer, the “big man”, scrutinized my provisional papers, trying to work out how he or his colleagues had dealt with them before. No one knew quite what was correct.

“When are they going to give you your green card?” he sighed, as he tried one more combo of stamps and hoped for the best.

“Put in a good word for me!” I told him as we waved goodbye.

This country owed me nothing, yet it consistently (and somewhat arbitrarily) erred on the side of eroding red tape with understanding, if not of bureaucracy then of relationship. And I, caught between my mother and my children, between continents, homes, waves of grief, needed that moment of compassion more than anything.

And I understood that it was a privilege.

One day at the federal building downtown, the machine refused to recognize my fingerprints (then when it did, said they didn’t match themselves?). An older woman came over to take charge of my hand, massaging it vigorously, trying to bully my blood vessels into provoking a reaction from the scanner.

“It’s worst for the ones who’ve worked with their hands. Some of them, their fingerprints have worn completely away,” she told me.

“What happens to them?” I asked. She did not answer me.

I have been a citizen of these United States for nearly a decade now, and from the start, my experience of it was as far a cry from the plight of those families and individuals at that other airport, or trying to reach it, or trying to persuade someone to accept their papers, or to stamp their application, or to see their family sitting silently behind them, urging their plea with piercing eyes, or fading into hiding, or worse, as the wail of a newborn infant from the ululation of a bereaved mother.

But looking back at all I have been given and granted, it is easy to see what I owe them: the people caught between countries, who have wagered their lives on the integrity and honor, on the humanity of America.


If you are looking for ways to help, Episcopal Migration Ministries directly supports Afghan people arriving in America as refugees from the current crisis.

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To whom shall we go?

A sermon at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio, one week after the fall of Kabul, the earthquake in Haiti, and in the midst of hurricane season and extended pandemic surge. In the gospel, many disciples find Jesus’ teaching hard to follow and turn away, but when Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:69)

Featured image: Kings Palace, Kabul, by Casimiri at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons


There is a hurricane heading into New England. To the west and across the ocean, wildfires are burning. To our south, earthquake has devastated people’s lives and homes, and left them without shelter from the next storm. All around us there are signs of pandemic disease and a pandemic of anger as we try to navigate our way out of trouble that seems to have us firmly by the ankles.

It is in the moment of crisis that we are challenged to stay with Jesus, or to turn aside to some other saviour. 

I am with Peter. I know of no better way to live than in the shadow of the Cross and the hope of Resurrection, in the story of God’s love, and of our redemption. However imperfectly, if I can follow Jesus, if I can hear him, if I can abide in him, and let him take root in me, then I may not avoid the storms that surround us all, but I will not be altogether sunk by them.

The way of the Cross is a way of hope, because it is forged in love, because it is forged in God. To whom else should we turn for eternal life?

Eternal life is not mere survival, in this life or the next. It is not mere endurance, the defeat of time and mortality. Eternal life is our share in the image of God in which we are created. It is the flourishing of the life of Christ within us; he who became human so that we might see the fullness of humanity, the potential for our partnership with God, in this life as well as in whatever comes next.

The way of Jesus, the way of the Cross, which is the way of love, of selflessness, of obstinate faithfulness, defiant forgiveness; which is the uncompromising love of God: this is the way of eternal life that leads to Resurrection, now and in the age to come.

We have grown up used to seeing Christianity as we practice it as the respectable and popular, the politically astute and advantageous choice. But the way of Jesus is not always the most acceptable path, and the choices of the gospel do not always favour those whom society elevates.

There were other days when Jesus’ teaching and preaching led to him losing followers instead of making them.

When he told the rich man to sell his possessions and distribute them among the poor, he lost a potentially powerful patron.

When he turned over the tables of the money changers, he lost a whole parcel of patience from those who set the exchange rate.

When he healed some and disturbed the sabbath peace of others, he made the neighbours grumble and murmur that he was not following proper procedure, nor observing the rules.

What do you think they said when he told us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute?

When he raised the dead, they planned to kill him.

At the moment of crisis, we need to ask whether we are still following Christ, or turning aside to other idols: militancy and Mammon, the saviour complexes of the west or the authoritarian pretensions of theocracy. A civil religion, in which might makes right, respectability is next to godliness, and success is measured by each individual and not by the measure of grace and hope that is spread across creation, to dignify each and every person made in the image of God. 

We have seen terrible things this past week. We have seen the desperation of people whose lives have been altogether changed in an instant. We have witnessed the destruction of homes and lives by earthquake, of lives and futures by war and by its complicated and devastating repercussions. We have heard the anger of those who feel betrayed by its ending, and we have absorbed the grief and fear of those whom we have abandoned in the end. We who have grown up as women and girls know in our bones, in the depths of our bodies and souls how badly this will go for them.

We are in a moment of crisis, and soon it will come home, and we will be asked to consider where our allegiances lie: whether we will embody the love and sacrifice of Christ, or turn aside to our own interests, more strategic measures. Whether we are prepared to welcome with open arms and open pockets refugees from war and terror. Whether we will ration the bread and the fish, or trust that we have enough to share, and baskets left over, if only we will listen to Jesus. Whether we will walk with them in love.

And, in the weeks and months to come, we may be well asked to make further sacrifices to further the health and safety of our children, and their families, and their teachers and caregivers; of our healthcare workers, so that they can continue to care for our whole community. Will we stand upon our own rights and freedoms, or choose the way of Christ, the way of love, the way which gives way?

You know that in another gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats: those who have sought out and served Jesus in every person they have seen and known, who have shared the mercy of God with everyone they could; and those who withheld it, and in doing so, denied the humanity of Christ, the image of God within those they could have honoured.

We know the call of Christ upon us. The question is, every time, do we still want to follow?

Others may, but I do not know another way that leads to eternal life, in this life and the next. I do know that if I abide in him, however imperfectly, he will stay with me, for he is faithful, and merciful, and his love endures for ever.

Amen. 


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Prayer for a day when there are no words

I do not have words to imagine the prayers of the falling.
It feels ironic to light a candle
when fires burn freely and fast;
to kneel as though the earth might otherwise
flee from beneath me.
Breathing has become
an act of defiance. 
Baptism threatens 
to flood the floor with tears.
Where will we look for the words of salvation 
but in the static,
silent space between thunderclap and lightning,
the gap between 
perception and impact,
sound and fury,
fear and revelation?

I do not have words to imagine the thoughts of the falling.
I pray for them anyway: 
swift and surprising currents of grace,
an explosion of peace.

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On Spiritual Communion

A sermon for the Church of the Epiphany in the midst of a pandemic.


When I was a young child, I took myself off to church. At first, it was the words that drew me in: bible stories, prayers, especially the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, even songs and hymns told their own stories and painted pictures of God and of the kingdom to come, the will that might one day be done on earth as in heaven.

I liked what I heard, so different from the day-to-day injustices of life: the mercy of God so removed from the images on the 6 o’clock news; the dignity of being made in the image of God, although I didn’t yet have those words, nor words to describe the concept of Christ’s Incarnation, hallowing our flesh by inhabiting it.

But I knew that there was something there that I badly wanted. I took myself to church to find it.

What I found was more words – the beauty of Cranmer’s poetry barely translated into twentieth-century English for a Welsh church; but beyond their murmurs I saw the mystery enacted at the altar, the bread and the wine that were transformed somehow into the Body and Blood of Christ, and offered among the people who reverently approached – but not to me. I was too young and unconfirmed (in those days that was the gateway to full Communion). I relished the blessing that Dilwyn or one of the curates would press upon my head, but I wanted that Bread badly.

A small confession: in my childish judgement I thought it a little unfair that I should be required to repeat the words of the postcommunion prayer, offering thanks for the spiritual food which had been physically withheld from me. I said them anyway; I understood on some level that I had become a member of the mystical body of Christ, that I had my part in the mystery that had been performed that morning, and that I was not unchanged by it – far from it. No one had explained to me the idea of spiritual Communion, but something in my spirit resonated with it.

Even if I could not yet receive the Bread and the Wine bodily, it was important beyond measure that they were consecrated, and that others, some-bodies, shared them on my behalf and enfolded me in their mysteries.

I share this with you because, to state the obvious, we are in a season when our bodily relationship with the Eucharist is altered. There are indicators such as the change from proper bread to wafers, and the inclusion of the prayer for spiritual Communion in our order of service. Then there is the Cup.

I long for the days when we can share the Cup among us. Every time I pray the words of Jesus, “Drink this all of you,” I feel that childish pang, knowing that I will consume the wine, the Blood of Christ, on behalf of and in the midst of us all. I find a gap between the words and the actions of the liturgy. 

Sometimes a gap is the space we need for reflection, for diving more deeply into the mystery of what God is doing with us in these sacramental moments.

Practically, there have always been times when Communion is more appropriately offered in one kind. A person who cannot swallow solid food might receive a drop of wine offered on a spoon with gratitude. A person in recovery or on medication or in fear of giving or receiving contagion might find that sipping from the shared Cup risks their physical and spiritual safety. Not to mention the opportunities for spreading germs that introducing multiple handfuls of bread into a common Cup presents.

In the middle of a pandemic, we are all at risk. It seems prudent, therefore, to resume the admittedly medieval practice of reserving the Cup to one person, who consumes it on behalf of the assembled body, and distributing the Real Presence of Jesus by means of the Bread alone, and by spiritual Communion for those at even greater risk.

This does not mean that we are not sorry to have to abstain, if only for a season, from some familiar and comforting practices. In the meantime, you have heard me say time and again that Christ is fully present in either form, and that we lose nothing of his grace by receiving him in one form or the other, nor by making our spiritual Communion as we have need. God is not constrained by our rituals, but allows us to approach heaven by means of them. The doorway to grace that is opened by the Eucharist opens towards us, and not by our hands.

And when we approach it, with trembling hearts and outstretched hands, we do so not only on our own behalf, but aware of the whole world for which Christ offered himself. Nothing we do as Christians, as followers of Jesus’s example, is for ourselves alone. So when we come to Communion, we do so on behalf of the sinful, the needy, the joyous, and the proud; we do so in humility, loving God and loving our neighbour enough to do it for them; we do so as that church family back in Wales did for the young girl who was not yet allowed or able to do so herself.

Odo Casel, a German theologian of a century or so ago, wrote that,

When the Church performs her exterior rites, Christ is inwardly at work in them; thus what the church does is truly mystery … The deepest ground for it lies in the fact … that Christ has given the mysteries to his Church … The content, and so the essential form of the mysteries have been instituted and commanded by our Lord himself; he has entrusted their performance to the Church, but not laid down to the last detail what is necessary or desirable for a communal celebration. By leaving the Spirit to his Church, he has given her the ability as well, to mint inexhaustible treasure from the mystery entrusted to her, to develop it and to display it to her children in ever new words and gestures.[i]

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

This is mystery, entrusted to us to develop and to display to the children of God as we are enabled by the Spirit, ancient as days, and new for every season.

In every season, this is inexhaustible treasure.

Amen.


[i] Odo Casel, Mystery and Liturgy, part iii, ch. 2, “The Mystery of Worship in the Christian Cosmos,” excerpted in Primary Sources of Liturgical Theology: A Reader, Dwight W. Vogel, editor (Collegeville, MN: Pueblo, 2000), 31

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