Moving into Eastertide and contemplation...

During the few days after Easter, I find it valuable to rest and reflect on what has taken place within and among the faith community.  And while I have no definitive conclusions, I have been taken with the thought that there is a gap between our our practices on Sunday morning and our everyday habits.  This is not unique to 21st century small towns, of course, and has been an historic tension since the beginning, yes?

Still, I am curious what would happen if we in the Reformed tradition started celebrating Eucharist every week - on Sunday or not.  Would the connections between radical hospitality and sacred compassion become clearer for everyday living?  How would a more sacramental spirituality help us embody the presence of Jesus in the world?  Or even see Christ in all things?  So... we're going to find out:

+ During the six weeks of Eastertide - the season after Easter and before Pentecost - I am going to hold an informal Eucharist each Wednesday at 12:10 pm.  Working people, retirees and even some students would be able to be present for this 40 minute gathering of prayer, Holy Communion and sharing.

+ We'll evaluate this experiment after Pentecost to see if it has deepened our sense of practicing what we preach - that is, learning from the liturgy how to be bread for the world - because our current non-sacramental/idea obsessed practices don't seem to be doing the work.

Two ideas are behind this experiment:  Henri Nouwen's weekly Eucharist for all students and faculty while he was at Yale Divinity School during the 80s and John Calvin's contemplative theology of the Lord's Supper.

+ Nouwen - a Roman Catholic priest - was bound by the rules of his tradition to practice "closed communion" when it came to celebrating the Mass.  That is, only Roman Catholics could receive the sacrament of Christ's presence from him.  But Nouwen also understood that God's spirit was not confined to Roman Catholicism - nor was closed communion a meaningful expression of God's grace in an ecumenical seminary - so he creatively renamed the practice:  weekly Eucharist.  In this, he was legally authentic to his tradition's rules and rubrics while finding a creative way to share the presence of Jesus with those who were hungry and thirsty for God's grace. 

Same for me - but with a few variations. I am not limited by tradition re: who may come to the table or not.  Rather I have inherited a tradition that can be boldly and radically open.  But what often happens in our Eucharistic experience is a benign lack of imagination.  Many have not thought deeply about the ethics of the Lord's Supper.  What's more, because it has often been celebrated in a truly boring and/or accidental manner, people tend to go through the motions without listening or connecting.  Could our more intentional yet informal and more regular practice help change this?  I don't know but want to find out...

+ John Calvin could be helpful because he considered the celebration of the Eucharist to be an act of contemplation on God's Word made visible.  Borrowing from Augustine he knew that when he met Christ in communion, something mystical - not rational - took place.  He spoke of it as being lifted into the Lord's presence.

Thomas Merton, a later day contemplative, spoke of contemplation in this manner:

Contemplation is more than a consideration of abstract truths about God, more even than affective meditation on the things we believe. It is awakening, enlightenment and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God’s creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life. Hence contemplation does not simply “find” a clear idea of God and confine Him within the limits of that idea, and hold him there as a prisoner to Whom it can always return. On the contrary, contemplation is carried away by Him into His own realm, His own mystery and his own freedom. It is a pure virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word “wherever He may go."

If, as others have said, contemplation is taking "a long, loving look at what is real" in order to discern God's presence, what might that mean for us as we contemplate Christ within and among us at the Lord's Supper?  It could be almost... Pentecostal in the best sense of that word, yes?  Again, I don't know but want to find out...

So, starting next Wednesday - actually this Sunday - we begin an Eastertide encounter with Christ in the Eucharist - and I'll keep you posted. (Part of the liturgy - from Iona - begins like this...)

The table of bread and wine is now to be made ready. It is the table of company with Jesus – and all who love him. It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world – with whom Christ identified himself. And it is the table of communion with the earth – the first word of God – in which Christ became incarnate.

So come to this table, you who have much faith and you who would like to have more; you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus and you who have failed. Come for Christ Jesus invites us to meet him here...

For his life which informs our living, for his compassion which changes our hearts, for his clear speaking which contradicts our harmless generalities, for his disturbing presence, his innocent suffering, his fearless dying, his rising to life breathing forgiveness, we praise you and worship him.

Here too gratitude rises, for the promise of the Holy Spirit, who even yet, even now, confronts us with your claims and attracts us to your goodness. In Christ’s love, we join our voices together in the prayer he shared with us saying: Our Father, who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day your daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.


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