Sunday, February 11, 2018

eucharistic living part three..

As people of Christian faith inch closer to Ash Wednesday, I am keenly aware of my new reality: I do not yet have a faith community in which to share this (and other) holy days. Given my recently retired status - a gift I cherish - I must remain apart from my former congregation for a full year. That, in and of itself, is not a problem. What complicates matters is that over the past 7 years the Reformed churches in our town have started celebrating key holy days together. It is a beautiful shift: as the Psalmist sings, "how good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell in unity." But it means I must be absent. So, I will likely attend noon Mass at one of the Roman Catholic congregations in order to be with God's people on Ash Wednesday. Maybe one day we can see the face of Christ in one another, but that is not going to happen on my watch.

A useful and insightful article came across my desk yesterday: "I bring my kids to Ash Wednesday"@ There are a number of important points made but the two that speak loudest to me have to do with sacramental living. Derek Olsen writes:

With the topics we don’t feel comfortable talking to our kids about—let’s just call out death and sex as two of the biggies—we can cling to the illusion that if we don’t bring them up, our kids will never know about them. But the combination of pop culture and conversation with friends make this a losing strategy in the long term. If you don’t do the educating, the entertainment industry will. My preference has always been to have brief periodic age-appropriate conversations about big topics like these. Clear and honest conversation on difficult topics is way better than glossing over them in silence and praying for ignorance.

Thus, Ash Wednesday services and the resulting questions provide an opportunity for clear, honest communication with your kids to clear up misunderstandings about life and death—or sin—they may have absorbed from movies, TV, or friends. However, another major piece of parental uncomfortability with Ash Wednesday is all about sheltering but isn’t focused on the kids. It’s about us. We’re trying to shelter ourselves.

If we don't help our children learn to see and live sacramentally, the culture will
fill their heads with magic, illusion and lies. Further, avoiding the hard truths of sacramental living is really not for our little ones; it is to keep us from wrestling with complicated mysteries. It is a naive way of practicing magical thinking rather than eucharistic formation.  As I wrote yesterday, the Eucharist teaches us to live as those who have been chosen, blessed, broken and shared by God to be as Christ to the world. At Ash Wednesday Eucharist, what can be more honest and sobering than imposing ashes on the forehead of a baby just six months old? Or a 95 year old woman kneeling in humility to the words, "Remember, from ashes you came and to ashes you will return. Embrace the grace of the Lord and sin no more? 
Henri Nouwen links this together well in With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life:

The beauty of the Eucharist is precisely that it is the place where a vulnerable God invites vulnerable people to come together in a peaceful meal. When we break bread and give it to each other, fear vanishes and God becomes very close. The Eucharist is the most ordinary and the most divine gesture imaginable. That is the truth of Jesus. So human, yet so divine; so familiar, yet so mysterious; so close, yet so revealing! But that is the story of Jesus... It is the story of God who wants to come close to us, so close that we can see him with our own eyes, hear him with our own ears, touch him with our own hands; so close that there is nothing between us and him, nothing that separates, nothing that divides, nothing that creates distance. Jesus is God-for-us, God-with-us, God-within-us. Jesus is God giving himself completely, pouring himself out for us without reserve. Jesus doesn't hold back or cling to his own possessions. He gives all there is to give. 'Eat, drink, this is my body, this is my blood... this is me for you!"

The liturgy of Ash Wednesday celebrates our vulnerability - the very tenderness of God in Jesus Christ - without illusion or romance. Olsen continues:

The Gospel calls us to open up our lives, to live honestly in light of what the world is and who God is. The truth of the Gospel means wrestling with truths that we don’t like. There’s a natural inclination to hide them from our kids–and from ourselves. But, through the practices of the Liturgical Year like Ash Wednesday, the church calls us to an integrity about ourselves, about the world around us, and about God. Only if we’re willing to tell the whole truth about sin and death are we able to tell the whole truth about resurrection. 

Lord, may it be so among us.

1)Jennifer Balaska,

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