On some Sunday mornings I groan under the burden of participating in the prayers of our communal worship. Rather than actually praying I sigh and shuffle and think of who I need to talk to at coffee hour or worry about what wasn’t in the bulletin. The minutes creep by. With irritation I chafe under phrases like “Father Almighty”, which under the best of circumstances are impenetrably alien to me. And the whole of salvation history sails right by me as I trace with my eyes the join of ceiling and wall behind the altar, noticing how a spider has managed to establish a home and raise a family there despite the Crusades of the altar guild.
For me, being in church is a voluntary thing. Unlike those whose job it is to lead worship (and also unlike my partner, Rosean, who grew up with the belief that not going to Mass is a mortal sin) I am free to choose other engagements on a Sunday morning. But I seldom do.
This is because no matter how disengaged I am with the prayers, the moment will finally come when I am able to walk up, kneel in front of the altar and receive the bread of life and the cup of salvation. I am joined in this by everyone in the congregation and everyone beyond, all who are members of the mystical body of Christ. And while that might not make me feel any differently in the moment, it works on me in the depths of my psyche all the time.
Taking communion is a radical act. It is a body-and-soul expression of our belief in an upside-down reality. Following the Way of Christ we put the needs of the oppressed and disenfranchised above our own needs, building the Kingdom of Heaven instead of our own personal empires. We reach across the barriers society imposes on us to embrace others very different from us in class, ethnicity, and spirituality. Participation in the Eucharist is an affirmation that we treat all our neighbors as we would treat our own selves, offering solidarity and belonging, hope and possibility.
It is this true-vine thing Jesus is talking about in the 15th Chapter of the Gospel of John (a reading for Martin Luther’s feast day today.) In the Eucharist we enact abiding in Christ – we are one with all that is. And as we hone that awareness, everything within us which does not bear fruit is slowly cut away. Our hearts hum with the sap of God.
As the world around me becomes more “post-Christian”, I’ll hang on for all I’m worth to the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Perhaps in the decades ahead we will find new ways to celebrate it – with slightly different words, in smaller groupings, at dining room tables, in multi-purpose spaces, at airports and bus terminals, on the beach or in corn fields – but offer it we must. It conveys the message of Jesus like nothing else can. “Abide in me,” he says. “Abide in my love.” Sharing the Body and Blood of Christ at the Eucharistic table, I know that we do.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: From Episcopal Café media files