Here’s the good news: I’ve signed up for classes for next semester and my schedule will be slightly less ridiculous, which means I can settle into a regular posting schedule again. The bad news is that I’ll continue to be spotty for this semester. I’m sorry about that.
Halloween is Monday, which is crazy to me. I have no idea how it’s Halloween already, and the weather here at the Wicket Gate hasn’t been at all cooperating in helping me believe that we’re this far into the fall. Global warming is crap for polar bears like me.
Halloween is in the running for my least favorite holiday because I’m pretty much a coward and hate frightening things. An entire holiday designed to scare you is just about the worst (also, waaaay too many spiders), but Halloween is also an interesting time of year for people of the Christian faith. There’s definitely the segment of folks who can’t abide Halloween because of its supposed connections with Satan and his ilk (y’know, witches and all that). But I read an article about how All Hallows’ Eve is actually pretty amazing for Christians considering it’s another way for us to celebrate Christ’s victory over death—and I like that spin.
So in that spirit, and in the recognition that I’ve had several God-moments around this particular sacrament lately, let me talk about the Eucharist, that memorial meal of the Resurrection itself.
At my div school, there’s a Eucharist service on Fridays that is a handful of students and the occasional professor gathering purely for communion. There’s no sermon, no announcements, just some hymns, prayer, and the sacrament itself. It’s become one of the most important points of my rhythm here, partly because I’ve always been deeply connected to this particular ritual but also because it is an outrageously human part of my week.
Here’s the thing: because it is almost entirely students, there are so many things that go wrong. We don’t have a sound system, but one week the person supposed to bring the bread and grape juice (hey, it’s run by Methodists) and so we legit used a bagel from Coffee Hour and some juice the presiding chaplain happened to have in her office. Twice now I’ve been asked to step up and read the Scripture of the day because they didn’t have anyone and I was, well, there. This past week no one had remembered to print off the bulletins that provide the liturgy, so part of it we read from the UMC hymnal and part of it we just listened to while the people leading said it all by themselves.
And here’s the thing—God still shows up. This service is so important to me for a number of reasons, but one big one is that I’m in a program training people to be able to handle holy ritual and sacred relationship and we are still so incredibly not God. Even when I graduate I still won’t be God (I think knowing that in my first semester will help tremendously in this degree) and I will screw things up a bunch when I work in a church. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t come to those services; thankfully, He doesn’t wait for our perfection to manifest Himself among his people. Where two or more are gathered, right? Right.
In the third and fourth centuries, there was a huge upheaval in the Christian community about the grace of the sacraments. One of the things people were trying to hash out was the role of the priest; if the priest was a heretic or a traditore (since Christianity wasn’t legal until the mid-4th century, there were a handful of persecutions in which some priests decided martyrdom wasn’t their thing and so “handed over” Christian documents and renounced their faith; this is where we get the English term “traitor”), was their whole flock damned with them? Or was God’s work God’s work no matter whose hands delivered it?
Thankfully, most people fell on the side of God’s grace being stronger than any individual priest’s faith/correctness, but there was much ink spent on the idea; if you listen to the way people talk about preachers and the relationship they have with their pastors and, through them, with God, I’d argue we’re still having that fight. But this weekly Eucharist service is amazing to me because it’s super true; God’s grace is unstoppable. This sacrament in which Christ is present and remembered can’t be shut out by our ineptitude or even by using a bagel. And it never will be. There is nothing I can do as a worship leader that will stop God from coming to God’s people, and that is the most incredibly heartening news.
And just as Jesus isn’t restrained by my saying the perfect words, He isn’t contained in that worship space. Since there aren’t that many of us who attend, there’s always bread leftover. In the UMC (and most Christian traditions that I know of) you can’t just throw out consecrated bread; it’s a respect thing. Either you have to return it to nature (i.e. feed to squirrels or somesuch) or you have to eat it yourself. I have class right after this service, so I often end up taking the leftover bread along with me and offering bits of Jesus to my classmates. It’s a pretty amazing ritual in and of itself, that we divinity students take handfuls or just tiny pieces of the challah or the naan or the sourdough or whatever bread we had that week and munch contentedly on this tasty tasty Jesus, and it’s not at all sacrilegious. Far from it—we are sharing in community, hashing out the history of the early Church even as we are filled with this element so laden with grace and hope and possibility even as it’s just really delicious bread.
And in that, too, is Eucharist. In people gathering to discuss this Christ with Whom we disagree, Whom we keep learning we don’t really know, Who yet comes and shares this meal with us just as He shared with 5,000 and with 11, we are honoring the sacrament and remembering.
Until He comes again.
Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:2-3, NKJV)