Going Out To The World
I happily agreed to review the final chapter of Nora Gallagher's book, The Sacred Meal, because the topic 'going out to the world' was one I had wrestled with before. The outcome of said wrestling has not always been very satisfactory to me, leaving unanswered basic questions such as: Why is communion so important for me? Is anything really happening? Why is it that I usually don't feel much different after I have received communion, than I did before?
In her introduction, Gallagher writes, "I show up, again and again, a miracle in itself." This summed up my attendance over the past thirty years in a nutshell. Gallagher had my attention and had opened the door for some serious self-reflection.
My emotional and spiritual responses to communion services have ranged from mountaintop highs to a puzzled lack of fulfilment and I suspect such is the case for most people. Almost twenty years of Eucharistic services at Images of Spirituality has truly been a blessing, and celebrating the mass at the Feast of St. Francis at the Franciscan Renewal Centre in Scottsdale, Arizona is something I will never forget.
I have gone forth from many Eucharists knowing that God IS, that God has touched my innermost parts and feeling a deep gratitude.
Sadly, it is more common for me to leave the communion rail more-or-less unaffected by the sacrament. Yet, some part of me obviously hungers for communion because as Gallagher says, I keep on coming back. When I worked for a United Church or attended the United Church as a member, I always missed the liturgy. The worship services never seemed quite complete. How to explain this incongruity?
According to Gallagher, All practices, [including communion] are meant, not to be a place where you stay and take a nap, but to lead somewhere outward toward the world. Her book is filled with stories of her encounters with God in the midst of her daily life; time after time she discovers the ongoing incarnation within her community and the world. Biblical stories, stories of the meals that Jesus shared with his disciples, become her stories and in turn became our stories.
In this final chapter, Luke's story on how to choose your place at a dinner table is examined in depth; are you an 'exalted' guest, or of the humble variety? Gallagher offers a story from C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce as an insight into the parable. In this story the narrator sees a beautiful lady with numerous attendants and assumes she must be Mary, the mother of Jesus. But the narrator learns that the woman was a nobody, a Jew from suburban London, who was exalted because of her deep love for everyone and every creature that she met. Gallagher concludes,
...the thing for which I know we will be exalted ... is how much we love. How much we free ourselves from everything that keeps us from loving and being loved: how much we free ourselves from competition, constraint, self-pity, and self-importance. All the things that stand between us and love.
Communion, as Anna reminded us in a recent sermon, has to happen in a community; a minimum of two people need to be present. The Rev. Tara Livingston, in her sermon in October, suggested that in Luke's story of Pharisee and the tax collector both were, "missing the mark" as they were outside the community.
Gallagher recounts a wonderful story about a meeting of her base community (a study/reflection/justice group). A newcomer joined this group of comfortable, middle-class, employed Christians and settled in well over the course of several weeks. He, (Frank) was light-hearted, able to quote theologians, and appreciative of what others said.
One day, Ann Jaqua happened to be talking about the Community Kitchen, the soup kitchen that she started and we both worked in . Frank fairly beamed at her. He said, "You started the Community Kitchen? Why, that's great. It serves the best food of any place I've been."
I think we all sort of gaped at him for a few seconds. I realized in those long seconds that Frank was homeless because he was eating at the soup kitchen.
Gallagher concludes, "Christ is everywhere, especially in bread and wine, where, as Luther says, he binds himself and us to each other." She postulates that the risen Christ rather than existing in the heavens, is infused throughout all of creation. Resurrection life is abundant and shared by all. "We are all the ongoing incarnation," she says.
This book has helped me appreciate that I belong at God's table. I am not the person God is calling me to be - yet. Even so, at communion God will look me in the eye and surround me with love that, if I am open, will permeate to a core I only dimly know is within me. I will remember where my home is. Through the practice of communion I encounter God at a most intimate level and am imperceptibly bound to those around me. It grounds me on The Way, strengthening me so that I can become who I am becoming: a member of Christ's body, engaged in all that life brings.
More simply, partaking in communion means my story becomes part of your story and part of your neighbour's story. It gives me the faith to pray for others and the faith to ask others to pray for me. It impels me to share my faith in God and rejoice when others find theirs. Through this practice I am gently nudged by the Spirit into the breadth of Christ's body, and am blessed.