Note: Our concern and care for the health and safety of all, as well as our profound respect, gratitude and support for exhausted health care workers, have lead once again to the suspension of in-person worship. The reflection below was written a while ago, before Covid turned both world and church upside down. I’m sharing it now on the occasion of a dual anniversary: my priestly ordination (Feast of St. Andrew, November 30, 2017) and 41 years of marriage to Jim (December 1). I cannot think of a better way to express my gratitude for a lifetime of hard-earned marital love and for my priestly vocation than to reflect on the meaning and importance of the Eucharist, the holy meal Jesus gave to the Church.
Sunday Eucharist begins long before the appointed worship time. In the early morning silence God invites me to consecrate the day as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, all of it, the good and the bad and the ugly. Despite my best planning efforts every day contains unexpected curves and challenges, alongside surprising joys and laughter. And the beauty, oh the beauty of creation, of life. Take and eat, says our God, take and drink … deeply …
Presiding at the Eucharist generates holy energy, flowing through body-mind-spirit in leading God’s holy people. So good to see you; who’s missing — oh dear, hope John isn’t sick again, farmers are seeding; oh my, there’s Gertrude at 97 still walking to church with her walker, and look, there’s our young family, trying hard to make it once in a while. The prayers and preaching on the Holy Word weave the life of our farming community into God’s tapestry of salvation. Taking my place at the altar, praying my way through the ritual preparations, the words are spoken slowly: “Take and eat, take and drink.” The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Holy words over holy food bringing holy mercy, healing and reconciliation to God’s holy people — Holy, holy, holy all right. Wash away my iniquity, O God, and cleanse me from my sin, so as to be your vessel of mercy and grace to this little flock of faith.
Following worship, the spirit of Eucharist continues with a sharing circle. Several parishioners recently attended the Blanket Exercise and are ready to share their experiences and impressions. Others join, curious to hear and learn. Feedback is mixed; tentative words reveal the struggle to shift mental maps around the old ideas about our Indigenous sisters and brothers and the history learnt in elementary school about cowboys and Indians. I am present to them, as I was present in the holy meal — receiving their discomfort, naming it gently while breathing peace into the circle and pointing the way to the Table of Reconciliation, the Eucharist, in this moment with this experience. It’s not perfect, and we have a long ways to go, but we have set out on the road, the road of slow but steady learning and reconciling: “Take and eat, take and drink.”
Next the spirit of Eucharist is pressing me as I meet two young couples who wish to have their children baptized. No church practice, little manifestation of faith, tongue-tied when asked about God and Jesus and the Bible. Yet, their hearts whisper a faint desire; there’s got to be something holy for their kids, even if they don’t have words. Wash me from my prejudices and irritations, O God, and cleanse me from my judgments towards these well-intentioned young people. “Take and eat, take and drink,” is for them too. Let me be your vessel of grace and mercy and hospitality. With Christ-like hospitality and compassion, I gently plant seeds in their hearts, just as my husband plants his garden, with unwavering faith that God will make for sprouting and growing.
I just have enough time to stop by Terry’s place. Still living alone in her house, she’s tired of living. “I’m smoking and drinking again,” she tells me defiantly. “What harm is it gonna do me now? I’m 91!” Her adult kids agree and resign themselves; why fight with this resilient spirit that has stood the test of time? Stubbornly clinging to petty churchy hurts from a bygone era, she politely declines God’s holy food — not feeling worthy. Yet I feel called to be Eucharist to her in my demeanour — accepting and honouring, loving unconditionally and self-giving: “Take and eat, take and drink.”
And what to do with Dave? He’s going through hell with a wayward daughter. I sit with him in the muck of the situation while his words are splashed with tears of frustration and helplessness. I listen patiently, knowing myself on the holy ground of his vulnerable spirit. Words of reverence, communion and compassion bring God’s grace and Eucharistic self-giving into this good man’s hurting heart. “Take and eat, take and drink.” The Body of Christ, given for you. The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.
Finally, a planned meeting in a coffee shop. Bryan is a millennial who grew up in church. But, he is quick to add, “I’m not an avid church goer.” We connect because he showed up at church one Sunday morning and made the mistake of giving me his contact information — I know how to find him now. Despite his disinterest in traditional religious practice, he appreciates our social chats. He trusts enough to tell me that he only attends church to honour some family roots — roots poisoned by family addictions and dysfunction. He talks and I listen, honour and welcome his musings and insights, even those different from mine. “Take and eat, take and drink,” says Jesus to Bryan, even though Jesus and monotheism have long lost their appeal for Bryan and he now prefers Eastern religious paths.
After a day of human joys and sorrows, a day of Eucharistic outpouring of God’s grace, mercy and love, I drive the 45 minute trip home alone in the car. I feel empty and full, grateful and challenged, my heart sensing the joys and pains of God’s holy people in my prairie town.
Once home, I connect with Jim, my life-long partner. We break bread together at supper, and share about the day, realizing once again that God’s holy reality, evident to eyes and ears of faith, operates always and everywhere just below the surface of human consciousness, eluding human language. We know ourselves on the Holy Ground of God’s beloved world.