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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Don't tug on Superman's Cape

One of our sisters on the HOB/D (House of Bishops/Deputies) listserv was struggling with some scriptural passages. She's a very, very courageous woman. She did this - shared her thoughts and feelings with a group of some of the thickest boneheads God ever created.

So, she's struggling specifically with Matthew 5:23-24 "If when you are bringing your gift to the altar, you suddenly remember that your brother has a grievance against you, leave your gift where it is before the altar. First, go and make your peace with your brother, and only then come back and offer your gift."

The poor woman struggles and twists and turns and finally comes up with this:

"Perhaps God loves us so much, God would even forgo intimate relationship with us to spare us the natural consequences of this unforgivable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that we commit when we either exclude each other from the altar rail or refuse to kneel at the same altar rail or receive the Body and Blood from some hands. In other words, perhaps God wants us to leave our gifts at the altar until we are willing to be reconciled with each other, and perhaps there should be no communion for anyone in the meantime.

So what do you think? Extreme perhaps, but then the luke-warm is apparently abhorrent in the Kingdom of God."

I gasped right out loud in front of absolutely no one at all except my laptop screen, and then yelled out, like an idiot, because none but Jesus heard me, "No! No! No!"

So, I wrote back. Of course, I wrote back. I do some of my best stuff in response to the postings on HOB/D.

You've heard some of this before, I think. Oh, I have no doubt. There is no such thing as an original thought and I often repeat my not-so-original thoughts.

Here's what I said:

I love the sharing of your honest, open-hearted struggling with scripture. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability with us. It honors and blesses us and scripture.

I fear, however, that you have forgotten two things:

1. Holy Scripture is a guide book, not a rule book.

In the Exhortation (BCP, pg. 316, which I read every year at the Very Brief Service which ends our Shrove Tuesday Festivities, just prior to reading The Decalogue and The Penitential Order), we are reminded that "St. Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that cup."

We are also reminded: "Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord." Then guidelines are provided that we may "remember the dignity of that Holy Sacrament."

These instructions include " . . .if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest . . ."

I take all these guidelines very, very seriously and commend them to your consideration and prayerful discernment. I know it has made a huge difference in the little over six years I have been privileged to be priest, pastor and rector of my little community of faith, in terms of the way the sacrament is perceived, observed and celebrated by us all.

2. The "holy Mysteries" make us part of our "sweet, mystical communion".

Here's what I believe: If we mean what we say about grace, that it is: "God's favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts and strengthens our wills," (BCP, pg. 858), then the words of our Eucharistic Prayer B make perfect sense, ". . .we are made worthy to stand" before God.

The Sacrament of Eucharist is a gift of grace, you see, "unearned and undeserved." Even so, I also believe it is important to prepare our hearts for its reception (see #1 above).

Furthermore, if we believe what we say about what happens at Eucharist - that in the "holy Mystery" of our celebration and in Christ's true and real presence, we are united with all the saints, past, present and yet to come - then here's the thing (pay really close attention, now, because you could miss it):

Whether I am excluded by someone or exclude myself from others, I'm still there, whether I (or anyone else) like(s) it or not.

See? It's a mystery. No one - not even someone in a purple shirt - can control a mystery. Not you. Not me. Not nobody. Not no how. Not no where.

Or, as my one of my Confirmation kids once said, "Don't tug on Superman's cape. Don't spit into the wind. Don't pull the mask off the Old Lone Ranger and don't mess around with Jesus."

Here's what I believe: The Eucharist is a Revolutionary Act. Any act that provides the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation for all or anyone who comes to the table will always cause at least a stir.

When one who has been excluded is the one who presides at that Eucharist, or when the one who has been excluded invites absolutely everyone to the Table to be fed, well, it becomes, in and of itself, the Revolutionary Act which Jesus intended it to be.

So, do not worry or fret over our brothers and sisters who will not receive with us. Whether they want to be or not, they are still with us in that 'mystical, sweet communion' of God. And, we are with them, whether we want them with us or not.

Here's what works for me: Stay true to yourself. If you are in need, confess your sins and seek wise counsel and guidance. Judge not, lest you be judged by God. Prepare yourself and be present for communion in a regular, discipline way so that you may be nourished by Christ's Body and Blood to do the work of mission and ministry. Do the particular work of mission and ministry that is your unique vocation. Pray for those who are absent and those who have intentionally absented themselves.

Leave the mysteries of grace up to God.

That's my best non-lukewarm and perhaps, to some, equally extreme shot.

Hope it helps.


Ostrich said...

Absolutely! It is through the sacraments that we too are changed. It is the very ordinariness and reality of our lives which we place upon the altar in the hope that we will be transformed like the body of Christ we receive in return. It is a transformative sacrament. It is not necessary to have reached perfection before we receive it. The Eucharist brings about that perfection.

I'm all for speaking to my brother and sister in Christ beforehand, and each and every day, in order that disagreements might be resolved, but forgiveness is not always what is needed, and acknowledging difference can be life-giving too.

And as Our Lord said, if your peace is not received by those you meet, then walk away. Banging your head against a brick wall is not the same as loving your nieghbour as yourself.

Ostrich said...

Ugly typo on neighbour - sorry!

altar ego said...

Reading this takes me back to an experience I had some years ago. Because of a particfular choice I made I caused grievous pain to another person. I was not in a position to make amends to that person directly, but bore the weight of my sin like a shroud around my heart. It was agony.

At the height of my distress about how to set things as right as I could, I chose to refrain that coming Sunday from taking Eucharist. I didn't see that as punishment, or the absence of grace, but as a way to atone through a literal separation from God. To exclude myself from my community of faith, my beloveds, that morning, was excruciating. To return to the fold the following week and break bread in the midst of that family around the table released me from my pain. I understood forgiveness in a new way, and embraced the sacrifice of Christ for me (and for all of us) as never before. Eucharist has never been the same since.

I'm not sure how or where to tuck this into what you write about mystery and grace, and the power of God to transcend all the messiness that confuses our grasp of that divine reality, but this memory was evoked and I felt compelled to share it.

Grace and peace to you, and thanks be to God for the Mystery.

Bill said...

Elizabeth writes: “When one who has been excluded is the one who presides at that Eucharist”

As one who has been excluded, and for probably the similar reasons, I can really relate to this. This was precisely the reason I jumped off the RC ship and came to TEC.

As far as being ready to receive, if you have made the effort to get to the church, isn’t that an indication of your desire to be close to God. Look at how many who call themselves Christians never get to church on Sunday. Look at how many show up twice a year for Easter and Christmas. Don’t we kneel after the creed and confess our sins against God and neighbor? And, aren’t we forgiven? You all know the spot, it’s just before the prayers of the people. They haven’t moved it, believe me. That’s where we are prepared to receive communion.

I don’t think we should be to hasty to judge ourselves. We’re not very good at it. We are in fact our own worst critics. I recommend leaving that up to God who I believe is eminently more qualified. And isn’t communion exactly what we need to restore our spiritual health. If you are sick, do you wait to get better before taking the medicine? That just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Elizabeth, you're right. It's about the mystery. Those who exclude themselves are still present. Those who are excluded are still present in the mystery of the Eucharist.

I remember at one point when I was still in the RCC, I heard the words, "Look not upon our sins, but upon the faith of your church...." I looked around at the lukewarm and wan worship around me, and I thought to myself, "How are those words consoling?" I mentioned this to a friend later, and he told me that by "the church" we include all the saints throughout the ages, Peter, Paul, Francis of Assisi, Oscar Romero, Mychal Judge, and the rest of the great saints. "The church" is not limited to the small local community. When I heard those words, I said, "Oh! I see!" That made all the difference in the world.