Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Supper of Our Lord: Reconnecting.... a re-post

I read Ian Cron's blog today, just as I put my feet up for a few minutes, preparing for the wonderful weekend ahead. On Saturday evening, our daughter will marry a good man. It is her second wedding. The first was 24 years ago when she was all of 19, and they knew when they married that his life would be a shorter-than-usual one. He found his eternal home in Jesus almost three years ago and there was a lot of pain and loss in the process of his dying. So to see and to celebrate happiness just now is gift - that's the only word for it.

And Mr. Cron wrote a brief beautiful word today about the grace of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper and I remembered this post from about 18 months ago.  I've reworked it a tiny bit and it's too long - but it speaks to some of the down-deep joy we are all feeling just now.  To the grace of our God, to the goodness of life experienced through good times and hard times and to the promise of God's faithful presence through all of it.

Originally posted in early January, 2010, before my retirement at the end of that year:
 It's been such a strange holiday season this year.

My youngest brother died two months ago, almost exactly one year after our son-in-law died in 2008, and grief has taken hold of me in ways that surprise and stymie me. I've been feeling oddly removed from life - sort of like an observer rather than a participant. Tears are right behind my eyes much of the time, yet I find it exceedingly difficult to release them. 

My husband and I often find ourselves feeling numb and exhausted. Both of our mothers are slowly slipping away - one to dementia, one to blindness and grief, and we carry heavy hearts about them just about 24/7. I've had a couple of teeth yanked, reminding me in a particularly painful way that everyone's body ages, everyone's. And this year, for just about the first time ever, we did not decorate the house for Christmas in our usual over-the-top fashion. There was simply no energy or desire to do so. 

Our children are magnificent human beings, stepping into the space that our strangeness has created this year. Each daughter hosted family Christmas gatherings and our son and his family came to them all with sweet offerings of food and love. We are blessed in our kids and in our grandkids and we are grateful. 

And I have also been glad for the distraction and structure provided by my professional holiday responsibilities, yet I have felt distant even there - unable to connect in ways that are usual and meaningful. 

Writing public prayers has been the single richest blessing of the season this year - forcing me to engage with the weekly biblical text at a deeper level, engaging my mind and my spirit in something which requires me to step outside myself for a while. And stepping outside myself has been tough to do - I feel as though I'm walking through my days inside a roll of cotton batting, with sounds muffled and sights blurred. It has indeed been a strange season this year. 

So this morning's worship experience was a gift of grace from which I am still vibrating tonight. 

I've been serving on the pastoral staff of Montecito Covenant Church for 13 years now, and for about 8 of those years, we enjoyed a candlelight communion service on Christmas Eve. It was usually the high point of the year for me - a culmination of another year of ministry, another year of this privileged life I lead - called to offer the love of God to a particular community of people in ways that are often intensely moving and deeply satisfying.

Each Christmas Eve, we offered the bread and the cup in a darkened room, brightened only by the small candles being lit as each communicant passed by the Christ candle. Many of these people I knew by name - most of them, in fact. And I knew their stories as well.

This dear woman lost her husband this year, that family struggled over a child's problems with addiction, this one struggled financially, that one with a difficult medical diagnosis. As I handed out the body and blood of our Savior, each candlelit face reminded me of our connection to one another in this wonderful web of life and death and wonder we call the Christian faith. 

And I usually wept my way through that communion service. Tears of gratitude and joy, tears of humble acceptance of another year's call to serve and support, tears of wonder at the sweet simplicity of the story, the tender love of the Savior who came as a wee one of us so that we might be called children of God. I have so missed those services! Something about rounding out the year with a full-face-to-face connection seemed to take away all the rough edges, the forgotten tasks, the missed opportunities. And I would always leave the sanctuary (or more accurately the gymnasium where we worshiped in those long ago days) feeling blessed right down to the ground.

But traditions differ from place to place and this particular one was not part of our new pastor's experience, so we moved away from serving communion on Christmas Eve. We still light candles, we still have readings and carols and the evening is lovely. I just really miss that year-end contact with the whole community, where everyone lines up and walks by to receive the body and blood.

But today, on this first Sunday of the new year, we started what I hope and pray will be a new tradition - we had an Epiphany service, with a great word from the pastor, marvelous music (oboe, guitar, synth, piano - oh my!) and we offered communion a little bit differently than is our usual monthly habit.

Instead of passing the trays, we invited everyone to come forward, down the side aisles, to receive the bread and cup - and then to swirl their fingers in the baptismal font on their way back to their seats, a small physical act, a tactile reminder of our baptism, a way of reconnecting and re-committing and re-membering ourselves, as Madeleine L'Engle wrote it once, years ago.

I stood with that brass tray filled with tiny squares of bread, leaning forward to offer the body of Jesus to each person who came. And as I glanced up, I saw that the line curved its way all the way up the aisle, out the doors to the narthex and beyond, disappearing into a shaft of light from the bright sunshine outside. I was stunned by this image, moved in ways I'm not sure I can articulate. This brief snapshot of a glance pierced a part of my flesh and of my spirit that has no name, except maybe this one - soul. With that single look, I instantly remembered who I am and where I fit: I am part of a story, a wonderful redemptive, life-changing Story that goes backwards and forwards, stretches across time, across space, across spirit and flesh and memory and promise. And a small miracle happened in me - in all of me, soul, spirit, body: the tears came. The tears flowed.

As I glanced at each face - most of whom I knew by name - I was simply overcome by the goodness of God, by the gift of these people in my life, by the sweetness of this nourishment it is my privilege to offer to the people of God in this place. And I fully inhabited my body for the first time in weeks - I felt incredibly blessed - right down to the ground.

A dear friend noticed my tears and called today, leaving a message of concern on my phone. I have just written to reassure her that I am fine - more than fine...I am re-membered, I am in touch and in tune and amazed by grace. That's what the sacraments are about, I think. And I am so grateful.