Yesterday, I shared some thoughts that bubbled up from one of Jean Vanier's books, Befriending the Stranger, including the following (albeit slightly modified today):
... One of the reasons I cherish the Eucharist is that it gives me time to quietly listen to Jesus and welcome him back into my home. It also does so in community. I was talking with my dearest Sunday School teacher a few days ago, a man who is 86, and an active Quaker. He said that he has never really appreciated Eucharist. "I don't get what is so special about this ritual."
As I listened it occurred to me that the horizontal aspect of the feast had not been part of his formation. I know that I had not really spent much time considering this being raised in the liberal Reformed tradition where Holy Communion is more of a rite than an encounter with the sacred. After all, so much of the liberal Protestant realm is profoundly personal - more a head trip than anything sacramental - where ideas rather than incarnation rule the day.
Nevertheless, I still vividly recall a time when I was 15 sitting in worship with a little cube of Pepperidge Farm white bread in my hand sensing the mystical presence of Jesus with me. After that, Eucharist has never been an abstraction for me - nor merely a formal religious ritual. Since then, I have given a great deal of attention to reading various Eucharistic theologies, and, practicing meditative contemplation in adoration of the body of Christ.
As my beloved mentor told me of his experience, I replied, "I love the Eucharist - celebrating it or receiving it - for in addition to the mystical truths I have experienced, the meal also puts me in relationship to sisters and brothers that Jesus calls me to love. The horizontal connection of communion is a big part of the blessing. It helps me know that communion - and life - is not all about me." We sat with those words together for a few minutes in silence before he said, "I never knew that. It makes a big difference ... hmmmm."
I come back to this conversation after reading two other Vanier quotes from Befriending the Stranger. The first suggests that opening our hearts to the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is one of the ways we can give up our idolatry. Referencing the prophet Hosea, Vanier writes:
The Lord says, "I will remove the names of Ba'als from her mouth." This means that God will take away all those things that have becomes idols for us, the things that we worship in place of God; things that have taken on too much importance, such as money, efficiency, know-how, reputation, even friendship and community. You have put your trust in them instead of me." (Vanier, p. 29)
Back in Cleveland, during my first run as a solo pastor, I was vigilant aboutkeeping the liturgical seasons pure. No Christmas music during Advent, no baptisms or weddings during the penitential time of Lent, etc. I was equally adamant that the imagined radical inclusivity of my Reformed tradition was superior to all other ecclesiastical models. I couldn't see how my self-imposed commitment to liturgical purity was a barrier to God's grace. So it came to pass that one Sunday leading up to Christmas, I had gathered the small urban congregation around the communion table for Eucharist. During the sharing of the bread and wine I asked the folk, "What's your favorite song of this season." And without missing a beat, George Spice, a 50+ year old man with intellectual challenges proclaimed: "Rudolf, James, Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer is my favorite song of this season."
It felt like I had been slapped in the face with a leather whip. Freakin' Rudlolf, George? Are you kidding me!? The wind had literally been knocked out of me for an instant. Because, at the same time I was feeling liturgically offended, I was also realizing that, "Not only was this George's favorite song - and I'd just asked for it - but the very message of Rudolf was salvific. It's a song about one who has been shut out of community because of his differences who then brings healing to the whole community by sharing his so-called disability as a guiding light." One of my idols was pulled down that morning and we sang "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer" with gusto as we shared the Body of Christ with one another.
The second Vanier quote amplifies the first: A secret has been shared within the L'Arche community... people with disabilities are a sign, a presence of Jesus, and a call to unity.
People with disabilities can be a paradox. Sometimes we are not quite sure who they are nor how to react to them. Their presence obliges us to look more deeply int our own lives and to reflect on what is really important... Jesus came into the world to change and transform society from a "pyramid" in which the strong and clever dominate at the tip, into a "body" where each member of society has a place, is respected, and is important. In his first letter to the community in Corinth, Paul speaks of the Church as a body, made up of different members. Each one is important, not only because of their function and the fact that each one is unique and irreplaceable, but also because when one member suffers, the whole body suffers, too. (Vanier, p. 38)
Sometimes when I have been the celebrant, I call the whole community to stand with me around the table. As I lead them through the Eucharistic Prayer and we sing with one another, something sacred takes place: we really see and hear one another. Then I ask the people to serve one another the host and the chalice. "I shouldn't be the only one who has the privilege of sharing Jesus with you. We ALL should do this with one another. So" I conclude, "look at one another as you share the bread and the cup. Don't take anyone for granted." And then before inviting the community to sing I add: "And its up to you to make sure no one goes unserved. If there's somebody sitting over in the corner, bring them into the body. Pay attention, beloved, this is how we practice loving one another as Jesus loves us."
Without a doubt, I love the Eucharist: horizontally, mystically, sacramentally and joyfully.