Sunday, August 12, 2018

Pentecost 12-B, 2018: Bread that unifies #HolyCommunion

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

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I remember the first time I realized something powerful was happening at Communion. I was five years old and had just started first grade at my Catholic school, so I had begun to learn the Catechism. One Sunday, during the prayers of consecration of the elements, I saw my Dad lift his gaze up to the altar. A strange look came over his face. You have to understand - my dad was a high-strung, easily angered, type-A Irishman. Yet in this moment, his face practically glowed with what I can only call a mix of peace and joy. It was so unusual, I remember it to this day.

I followed his gaze to see what he was looking at. The priest was elevating the bread, then the wine as he prayed the Eucharistic Prayer. I don’t remember hearing the words as much as noticing the action happening. I kept looking back and forth from the altar to my Dad’s face, and I knew deep within me that this thing that was happening up there was so important, so unusual because it could have this effect on my father.

Communion remains the only time I have ever seen my father truly humble himself. It’s the only time I ever saw him willingly surrendering his strength of personality to anything. Not even at his AA anniversaries (which I attended as his AA baby). Not even at the deaths or births of his family members. Only at Communion.

I invite you to think about and remember the first time you realized that something powerful was happening at Holy Communion and let’s share those stories – at coffee hour, or in a Formation event. These stories are inspiring and can be transforming.

Some people are put off by the language of Communion: eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood, so it’s important for us to remember that the language used by Jesus, bread as flesh and wine as blood, is the language of ritual. Jesus was, after all, a rabbi, who presided over many ritual meals. In his book, Doors to the Sacred, Orthodox theologian Joseph Martos says ritual meals, “affirm and intensify the bond of unity among the participants.” (Doors to the Sacred, Joseph Martos, 213)

Martos affirms that those of us who come to this sacred meal ought to reflect on what we’re doing, why we’re coming to receive this holy food. What is it that we are inviting into ourselves – our bodies and our lives? Because in the sharing of the bread of life and cup of salvation, “we are being united into a body – the body of Christ.” (Martos, 215)

That means things are different for us because, as St. Paul says, “we are members of one another.” (Eph 4:25) We can be angry, but we must not let that anger cause us to sin, that is, to break our communion with one another or with God.

When we speak, we are to say only that which will give grace to those who hear us, remembering that when we tear another member down or speak ill of them, or when we cling to bitterness and anger, we grieve the Holy Spirit. So, it’s important that we think about this meal and our choice to receive it knowing its power over us – the power to unite us to God and to one another in love.

Martos says that in ritual meals, like the Jewish Passover and our Holy Eucharist, those events we remember “become real and present to the people who share it.” (Martos, 213) Episcopal theology affirms that: this isn’t just a memorial for us as it is for many Protestants. It’s a present reality. Christ is truly present, and we don’t just remember this, we live it.

When we hear the words, “do this for the remembrance of me” I hope we hear the voice of our Savior inviting us to come back into unity with him. Remember. Re-member… Be a member again… be one with me again…

It’s a full-body, full sensory experience for us. We walk our bodies up to the communion rail and kneeling or standing by someone we may or may not know, someone we may or may not like, we reach out our hands and take the bread of Holy Communion into our mouths. As we do we remember that we are one in the body of Christ with the one on our left and the one on our right.

We taste the bread of communion as it melts on our tongues and that too becomes a signal to our bodies that something holy is happening and we are choosing for it happen within us. We chew the bread and swallow it and its substance literally becomes part of us.

Then smell of the wine greets us as the cup is raised to our mouths and the sharp flavor of the consecrated wine stimulates our glands. Our saliva mixes with the wine in our mouths, water and wine mixing within us, making manifest the union of our bodies to Christ.

When we eat the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation, we are giving our bodies to God who enters us, becomes one with us, and makes us one with God and each other. It is a mystical moment, a moment of pure joy as we remember, even for just this moment, that our sins have been forgiven. It is a moment of deep peace as we remember that by this spiritual food we are renewed, strengthened, and made whole again.

Our daily lives can drain us. Our Christian life should drain us. We should be giving out love and prayer and offering words of hope to someone every day, all the time. There are so many who need it. We should give it until it’s gone because we believe, we know there is always more.

This journey is too much for us unless we are continually nourished and renewed by our spiritual food: the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This journey is too much for us to travel alone, and so we must continually affirm our bond of unity to God and one another. This journey is too much for us unless we stop the world, come into the presence of God, and remember that our sins are forgiven and we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that is, we are made holy, unified to Christ in whom we are all made whole as a body, and individually as members of it.

Remembering that gives us strength to go out to the world, again and again, as living locations of the love of Christ in the world. That is the gift of the power of Holy Communion. Thanks be to God.


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