Eucharist and Justice

If you are surprised by the combination of these two words above, stop and think for just a moment. Your surprise reveals the massive amnesia among most western Christians about the fact that celebrating the Lord’s Supper ought to have huge consequences for how we treat the most vulnerable among us. It is urgent that we reconnect these two principles in order not just to recover faithfulness to Christ, and to ensure that our Eucharist is “valid” (1 Cor. 11:29) but to save the very planet we inhabit, our common home.

When writing the latest essay for one of my M.Div. courses on the above subject, I unearthed some poignant words which are crying out to be reclaimed, from the Gospel itself to the early Church Fathers to today. I am sharing them here with the hope of awakening all of us from our consumer slumber. For if we truly are what we eat, and if we partake in Holy Communion over and over for years, then just about every cell in our body has been nourished with the sacred meal. Christ’s Body and Blood – that’s who we are. From that reality it ought to flow without question that we in turn are then called to bring Jesus’ body and blood out into the world, to lay down our lives for the sake of our sisters and brothers in need.  May it be so.

On the night before he gave up his life for us, Jesus, at supper with his friends, took bread, gave thanks to you, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “Take this, all of you, and eat it; this is my body which is given for you.” After supper, Jesus took the cup of wine, said the blessing, gave it to his friends, and said, “Drink this, all of you: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which is shed for you and for many, so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.” ~ Eucharistic Prayer 5, Book of Alternative Services, Anglican Church of Canada.

‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and clothed you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visited you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ~ Matthew 25:35—40

Although world leaders have increasingly talked about the need to tackle inequality, and in September agreed a global goal to reduce it, the gap between the richest and the rest has widened dramatically in the past 12 months. Oxfam’s prediction, made ahead of last year’s Davos, that the 1% would soon own more than the rest of us, actually came true in 2015 – a year earlier than expected.  ~ Oxfam Report, Jan. 18, 2016

When we seek liturgy which fosters social justice, we are confronted with an immense challenge – celebrating liturgy which changes not only the hearts of worshipers but, through them, the way the world – and the church – are organized and function. ~ The Liturgy that Does Justice, James L. Empereur, SJ, and Christopher Kiesling, OP. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1990

I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream. ~ Amos 5:21-24

The 28 richest countries have resettled only 1.39 per cent of the 4.6 million Syrian refugees – a total of 129,966 refugees – a fraction of the 10 per cent of people who need to be urgently offered a safe haven. Only 67,000 have actually made it to their final destination. ~ Oxfam Report, March 29, 2016

Our habits and our predetermined ways and the structures of our society have fastened such blinders on our harnesses that, as a whole, Christians and Christian churches in our society have only the haziest notion of any moral imperative flowing from the Sunday meeting in which we celebrate God’s word of human liberation and solidarity and then act it out in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. As obvious as those ethical demands are, they simply do not impinge; they do not get through to us. We are too well protected by the world we live in. ~ Robert Hovda in Let’s Put the Eucharist to Work, US Catholic, June 12, 2008)

Those who hold strange doctrine … have no regard for love, no care for the widow, the orphan, none for the orphan or the oppressed … because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour. ~ St. Ignatius of Antioch, 100 AD

I recall you in the last place to the Christ of the Blessed Sacrament. … I say to you, and I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. ~ Our Present Duty, Anglo-Catholic Congress, 1923. Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar

Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk only then to neglect him outside where he suffers cold and nakedness. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same One who said … ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me.’  ~ St. John Chrysostom, 349 – 407 AD.

Why is it that in spite of hundreds of thousands of Eucharistic celebrations Christians continue as selfish as before? Why is the gap of income, wealth, knowledge, and power growing in the world today—and that in favour of the Christian peoples? Why is it that persons who proclaim Eucharistic love and sharing deprive the poor of the world of food, capital, employment, even land? ~ Sri Lankan Bishop, in Gabe Huck’s Let’s Put the Eucharist to Work, US Catholic, June 12, 2008

As each Sister is to do the work of a priest — go where he cannot go and do what he cannot do, she must imbibe the Spirit of Holy Mass, which is one of total surrender and offering. For this reason, Holy Mass must become the daily meeting place, where God and his creature offer each other for each other and the world. ~ Blessed Mother Teresa, Rule Book, Sisters of Charity, p. 31; R. 33.

The Eucharist, whether seen as Holy Communion or as the Mass, can become a kind of product created for individual spiritual customers. It’s supposed to have a trans-forming effect on us so that we leave church determined to do something. We should be seeing the world in a different way and have different priorities because of the Eucharist. It should affect what we do with our time, how we spend our money, how we look for a job, how we vote. ~ Gabe Huck,  Let’s put the Eucharist to Work, in US Catholic, June 12, 2008

In the third century, the North African bishop, Cyprian, wrote once to reprimand a wealthy woman in his church who made no offering of her resources for the care of the poor but who presumed nevertheless to show up at the communion table. From Cyprian’s perspective, the poor and rich alike must spend themselves for others. This is the concrete self-gift of the church, the gift celebrated in the Eucharist. The wealthy woman who refused her gift was denying – even mocking – the thrust and imperative of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is, above all else, a sacrifice: yours–joined to Christ’s. ~ An Easter Sourcebook, Gabe Huck, Gail Ramshaw & Gordon Lathrop, LTP, 1990

When you have partaken of this sacrament, therefore, or desire to partake of it, you must in turn share the misfortunes of the fellowship… all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing. You must fight, work, pray and – if you cannot do more – have heartfelt sympathy. ~ Martin Luther in “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods,” 1519, published in Luther’s Works, Volume 35: Word and Sacrament I. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960

If a poor man or a poor woman comes, whether they are from your own parish or from another, above all if they are advanced in years, and if there is no room for them, make a place for them, O bishop, with all your heart, even if you yourself have to sit on the ground. You must not make any distinction between persons if you wish your ministry to be pleasing before God. ~ Didascalia of the Apostles, 230 AD

Anyone who celebrates the Lord’s supper in a world of hunger and oppression does so in complete solidarity with the hopes and suffering of all men, because he believes that the Messiah invites all  . . . to this table and because he hopes they will all sit at the table with him. In the mysteries, the feast separates the initiated from the rest of the world. But Christ’s messianic feast makes its participants one with the physically and spiritually hungry all over the world. ~ Jurgen Moltmann, in Liturgy, Justice and the Reign of God, Frank Henderson, Stephen Larson, Kathleen Quinn, 1999

The Eucharistic celebration. . . is a constant challenge in the search for appropriate relationships in social, economic and political life . . . . All kinds of injustice, racism, separation and lack of freedom are radically challenged when we share in the body and blood of Christ. … Reconciled in the Eucharist, the members of the body of Christ are called to be servants of reconciliation among men and women and witnesses of the joy of resurrection. As Jesus went out to publicans and sinners and had table-fellowship with them during his earthly ministry, so Christians are called in the Eucharist to be in solidarity with the outcast and to become signs of the love of Christ who lived and sacrificed himself for all and now gives himself in the Eucharist. .. Baptism, Eucharist & Ministry, par. 20 & 24, World Council of Churches, 1982

In the fullness of time, you sent your Son Jesus Christ, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all. He healed the sick and ate and drank with outcasts and sinners; he opened the eyes of the blind and proclaimed the good news of your kingdom to the poor and to those in need. In all things he fulfilled your gracious will. ~ Eucharistic Prayer 1, Book of Alternative Services, Anglican Church of Canada

Prairie Encounters

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Step by Step

With no less than three certificates declaring me a member of the Anglican Church now, it was very moving to be formally welcomed through the Rite of Reception in a beautiful celebration of the Easter Vigil – Christ is risen, alleluia!

So, you may ask — how am I doing in all this? Extremely well, thank you. This entire experience continues to be a fascinating school in spiritual lessons and especially, in discernment. The fruits of these lessons are God’s gracious gifts. Could it be that fruits such as these further authenticate the path now embarked upon? Could it be that such lessons can serve as markers in any situation, a way of assessing whether important life steps are truly being taken honestly and thoughtfully, with both personal and communal integrity? I’m sharing some of these lessons below, inviting you the reader to find parallels in your own ways of making life choices. This sharing is not an end in itself nor a way to draw attention to myself. Rather, my prayer and hope is that the sharing can help all of us develop healthy and wholesome pathways to fullness in Christ, which is the baptismal call of all God’s holy people.

I sensed the authenticity of this call into the Anglican family of faith from the moment this new beckoning began over one year ago; its time had truly come, it was for real, and it originated in God. That certainty never wavered – each day in this past year of preparation peace, clarity and joy were my constant companions. Even when faced with seeming “setbacks” or unexpected challenges this threesome provided an anchor, orienting me gently and surely to the learning and the growing here and now. There is a calm wholeness to the current move that was noticeably absent ten years ago when I first considered turning onto this Canterbury trail. God is so very good and full of surprises …

Honesty, intentionality and integrity are among the primary values I strive to live by. That is why the denominational transition did not proceed 10 years ago; I knew in my heart of hearts that proceeding then would have seriously lacked the personal and ecclesial integrity both I and the Anglican tradition deserved despite all my best efforts (and the support of many) in that intense love affair. I know others who have changed traditions out of frustration and anger; that did not sit right for me. I couldn’t ground such a switch in motives that were too mixed and utilitarian, in energy that was too negative, with too much unresolved ecclesial baggage tagging along like a stowaway. Even if no one notices on the outside, the fact is that I would know on the inside. And it would feel way too much like building my house on sand … Maybe that’s why I received three certificates — just to make sure the Anglican piece sticks this time … 🙂

For today is a different story. Don’t get me wrong though; the past ten years have been filled with rich ministry opportunities, both in RC and ecumenical circles, and I am deeply grateful for God’s faithfulness in all these years. But today is a new day, a new invitation. There is a distinct qualitative shift to the way the Anglican beckoning entered my life’s orbit this time: unexpected, unbidden and undeserved, yet playing intimately and skillfully the strings of my desire in ways calling forth the very best I can be for God and with God’s holy people. The beautiful gift of today’s undivided heart now makes possible a new capacity to embrace and surrender to whatever the future holds in peace, trust and joy.

Every Sunday, for two whole months before Easter, I made a 215 km round-trip to go to the mother church in this Anglican Diocese, St. John the Evangelist in Saskatoon, along with my sponsor. We joined other adults with their sponsors who were preparing for their final step in joining the Anglican Church (Confirmation in their case). After having coordinated RCIA in my years of RC pastoral ministry, it was interesting to now find myself on the other end of that process, and I am immensely grateful for the opportunity.

Every Sunday we began the Eucharistic service with the entire congregation until, after the homily, the priest would call us up, pray a blessing over us and dismiss us. We would then go to the adjacent parish hall where we would have our catechetical session for the day. We shared prayer, our lives, our questions and thoughts about how to grow more fully into our common baptismal calling as Christ’s disciples. We learnt about the distinct features of Anglican discipleship in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Jesus.

I thoroughly appreciated this preparation process; it was exactly what my heart and spirit needed, making the journey towards formal reception in a spirit of community and prayer. On the outside it maybe looked tiny and insignificant, esp. for me who has studied and ministered so extensively in many church settings, both Roman Catholic and ecumenical. I discovered and experienced the gift of slow, the meaning and power of an incremental and ritual “yes” Sunday after Sunday. Each deliberate step into this yes deepened and strengthened my decision in a most inclusive both/and way, i.e. without denying any of what was before but bringing it along in a new configuration – how very Anglican. And each Sunday my joy, peace and clarity grew in depth and breadth, enabling me to make the Anglican tradition my new home. Ritual truly does deepen one’s experience.

Hard as it was, I fasted from receiving communion for the two months of preparation at the Cathedral along with the other group members. This made Holy Communion at the Easter Vigil extra special, almost as a “first communion” all over again. What a nourishing gift the Eucharist can be to famished souls and parched spirits. This awareness grew steadily in the weeks of Eucharistic fasting. Sometime in early March, I attended a Eucharist on a weekday. I had become acutely aware of my hunger for the Bread from Heaven; here was an opportunity to receive and I so desired to do so. Yet receiving would have broken my solidarity with the group and would undoubtedly have affected my experience of receiving Holy Communion at Easter. I struggled in the pew with my famished spirit; even when I went up to the communion rail I still didn’t know what I would end up doing. But then I knelt down, crossed my arms across my chest, received a blessing,  and thanked God for the depth of my Eucharistic hunger – what a beautiful gift this awareness is now.

On Good Friday I sought out the sacrament of Reconciliation (yes, Anglicans can do this and some in fact do!). It was an emotional experience to name and leave behind all the hurts of the past, all those I have hurt and to forgive those who have wronged me. It was an opportunity to check for unwelcome and unhealthy stowaways in heart-mind-spirit, and to seek God’s mercy in ridding myself of these. I even asked forgiveness for things that happened ten years ago which, I learnt recently, have sown distrust in some Anglicans about today’s denominational change because of memories of feeling used and betrayed by my transition struggle at that time. Through tears of repentance God’s mercy flowed generously, setting me free for this new leg on the journey.

And so, my joy was full and deep in that Easter Vigil, fueled not only by a renewal of faith in the risen Christ, not only by the gracious hospitality of the Cathedral parish, but also buoyed by the supportive presence of my RC spouse, my oldest son, members of my Anglican home parish who made the 215 km round-trip just for me, and several Roman Catholic friends. How important community is …

Each step savoured and cherished,
each word pondered and chosen to perfection.
No running and rushing, no tripping or regrets …
Slow motion in momentous choices
adding spice and reflection, depth and meaning
while sprinkling clarity and peace
in heart and mind.
Infusion of courage and patience
in a spirit trembling in fear and joy …

Each slow step affirming yes
falling into a future known
only by tomorrow
featuring glowing colours
of pregnant promises of life
ever green, ever fresh, ever new…

And so, in confidence and trust, I surrender to a future known only to God. That is okay, for surely it is God who saves me; I will trust and not be afraid. For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense, and he will be my Saviour. (Isaiah 12:1-2)

Prairie Encounters

For previous reflections pertaining to my experience of denominational transition, see the following blog entries:

A Time of Transition

Transition Continued

Transition: The Inside Story

Transition: The Outside Story

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Welcome to Doubt

After a 2-month absence I was happy to be back in my (Anglican) home parish again this morning preaching on Doubting Thomas:

A small town in B.C. has one claim to fame: their mountain towers over the town, like a monument to eternity. Most of the time, however, the mountain is hiding in the clouds.On the few clear days in the valley, you can hear people say to one another: “The mountain is out!”

Now, even when it cannot be seen, the mountain is there, right? If you follow the directions on the road map, there is no doubt that you will bump into the Mountain. It is a long drive around, and it is a difficult climb up that mountain. Many tourists come to visit that small town, hoping to catch a glimpse of this piece of natural beauty. Many, being there on the gray and cloudy days, do not make the effort to find the mountain hiding in the mist. Many leave the town, not believing that the Mountain is really there, because if they cannot see it, chances are that the mountain does not exist at all…

Hmmm … unless I can see for myself, I may doubt the existence of whatever it is. Unless I can see for myself, I may not believe. Unless I can see for myself, I may live in fear that God may not be real. All we know for sure are the wounds and the bruises we collect over time. No wonder Thomas demanded to touch the wounds of Christ — just for proof. We do not argue with suffering and death: they are as real as the clouds around the Mountain.

My friend Marian knew about the thick clouds around the mountain. Not that she has ever been to that town in B.C. — no. As a matter of fact, she has been so sick that she hasn’t been much further than a ten minute walk down the block near her house. Visits to the doctors in the city are so tiring that she needs days in bed afterwards just to recover from the trip.

Marian was young — in her mid-forties blessed with a caring husband and two young children. But Marian’s life had been seriously curtailed by some mysterious illness, as if her body had suddenly betrayed her. Doctors were at a loss for a diagnosis: thyroid cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, mercury poisoning from dental fillings, damaged immune system from radiation treatments. It was a bit like Russian Roulette.

Meanwhile Marian fought in her spirit to maintain a sense of God in the midst of the pain, the tests and the fatigue. Like the disciples on that first day of the week, fear gripped Marian’s heart, settling in like the thick clouds around the mountain, locking the doors of her soul. Marian screamed silently in the lonely hours in bed, day and night, saying with Thomas: I cannot believe in you Lord, unless I can touch your wounds, unless you touch my wounds …

Marian is Thomas’ Twin, and so are we all. Not only do we want proof to show that Jesus is risen; we dismiss any proof that comes our way. In all fairness, we can excuse the frightened bunch of disciples – they really didn’t have a clue, at first anyways. I’m guessing Thomas wasn’t the only doubter in the mix. But Scripture has made him alone the patron saint of all doubters.

But we … We who profess Jesus as Lord, we who have been baptized into His death and resurrection, we cannot hide behind the excuse of ignorance. We are not among those who do not see and yet believe — we are among those who do see Jesus, who have received Jesus’ Spirit of peace and still do not believe, locking the doors with our fear.

We offer and receive comfort — Jesus is there, clear as day. We welcome a stranger, visit the prisoner — Jesus is there, clear as day. We forgive and receive forgiveness —Jesus is there, clear as day. We hear God’s Word and partake in Holy Communion — Jesus is there, clear as day.

But more often than we would like to admit, fear holds us back from one another, and from God, keeping us from seeing Jesus. Fear is our biggest enemy, just like fear drove the disciples to lock themselves in that upper room, not realizing that the “enemy” was not outside the room, but right in their own hearts. Fear is the thick cloud around the mountain, hiding from view the new life promised in the Risen One of God.

One year I asked Marian what Easter meant to her. That year Lent had been particularly trying on Marian’s health. Panic struck every little bit of faith she had left. “I now realize,” she says, “that my deepest problem was not my health, but fear. Like a persistent underground current, fear undermined every effort at healing. I feared constantly that God may not want me to get better.”

It was only when Marian unmasked the enemy in her own soul that God’s healing power could move in, at a level much deeper and extensive than merely bodily. Jesus touched Marian’s wounds with the Love that moves right through locked doors. “Never before had I felt the power of the resurrection so tangibly in my body,” said Marian, overjoyed that she made it to church that Easter morning.

Slowly, Marian is healing. The road continues to be rocky, and there are setbacks, always those darn setbacks. But now Marian’s heart knows something that the mind cannot ever grasp: the wounds in her body are touched, are soaked, in Love, and everything else takes its cue from there. Jesus breathed on her, blowing away the clouds around the mountain, bringing peace and a clear sight of Him who is steadfast Love and Mercy.

Jesus did not condemn Thomas for doubting. Jesus does not condemn us for doubting. Instead, Jesus uses our doubting to move us into a deeper seeing with the heart until we too can say: My Lord and my God. Because seeing does not lead to believing; believing leads to seeing. Perception shapes reality. If we regard the wounds of our lives as punishments that is what will shape our reality. If we choose to regard the wounds of our lives as pathways to God’s love and mercy, then Jesus can move in and say with love: Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe and live in my peace. 

When our hurts and injuries of life are kissed with love and mercy, doubt makes way for a deep inner “knowing” that all shall be well, and all matter of things shall be well in God’s economy of life and love and mercy, just as Thomas discovered, just as Marian discovered.

Faith that is incapable of entering into the Lord’s wounds is not faith. Our faith is incarnate in a God who became flesh, who was made sin (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21), who was wounded for us. But if we desire a deep and strong faith, we have to approach and touch those wounds, tenderly care for those wounds, as well as allow others to caress/kiss our wounds.

The Healer of our wounds, our illness, our brokenness bore our wounds in his death. The Healer of wounds lives, and dwells among us. With Thomas, and with Marian, we are nvited to touch the wounds of Christ in one another. The woundedness of the world are the wounds of Christ on the cross. The pain in our own lives is the birthplace of resurrection faith…”Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

In Jesus we are able not only to touch the mercy of God with our hands, but we are inspired to become instruments of his mercy. Blowing away the thick clouds around the mountain with the peace of the risen Lord, we bump into Jesus as we wind our way up that mountain, in the joy of his resurrection.

Baptized in Christ, we are an Easter people. Sharing in the glory of his resurrection, we have been given the gift and power of God to heal, to forgive, to comfort, to bring peace. The risen Jesus stands among us today, dispelling fear and disbelief, inviting us to be his guiding and healing presence in our broken world. Let us rejoice, knowing ourselves loved and redeemed beyond all measure. In Christ, we become worthy bearers of God’s gifts, gifts desperately needed in our world both broken and beloved … AMEN

Prairie Encounters

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