I am moved by every line of the Magnificat, by its every phrase and every word. I felt it again so strongly the other day, I decided we should devote one Sunday of Advent to each stanza, and Dr. Elizabeth signed on with me. The Four meditations on the Magnificat (Luke 1:39-56) will go like this:
Nov. 29, Advent I--My soul magnifies the Lord. Dec. 6, Advent II--God has scattered the proud. Dec. 13, Advent III--God has lifted up the lowly. Dec. 20, Advent IV--God has helped his servant Israel.
If the Magnificat had dropped out of the sky without context or source, I would be moved by it. To me it amounts to a flash of brilliant sunlight breaking through the opening clouds. I am still moved, after how many decades since I first read it, by the calm, by the utter certitude of it.
What a start to the story of our Jesus—his mother, surprised by pregnancy, sings, she sings out, but to whom, to the baby? to her older cousin Elizabeth who is also surprised by a pregnancy? To God? to us?-- Along the natural course of human life, these two women, Elizabeth and Mary, share a common experience, and like any new mothers-to-be, both are full of delight and wonder at what has descended upon them.
I, being male, can only imagine the extent of such feelings, the first steps of a journey taken by every mother and yet which is owned uniquely by each of them!
But I do get it, when Mary begins and sings, My soul magnifies the Lord--!
Spontaneously, up rises this burst from Mary’s soul--from where? --her soul! --from the eternal part of her which animates every human being, that part of her responds to this news, as from like to like—the corresponding part of herself responds to God—I do get it.
I was in a fix once, one I was not going to get out of, and I was really worried. A friend asked me, “Don’t you trust life?” Until then, no one had ever put it that way to me, I had not even thought of my Christian faith that way. It’s so that clear what is called for in life is to trust it, life being God-given, all the way from the furthest thing that telescopes can see to the smallest that microscopes magnify.
There’s that word--magnify, to make larger, make plainer, make more real.
Now comes this surprise which, humanly speaking, suddenly puts a woman’s foot on another path, and her soul tells out the greatness of her God-given life which she embraces. And she is one with it, come what may—she will accept her vocation, not just as a natural fact but as one more subject of the kingdom of God, her spirit is at one with God’s saving purposes. All the different things that can possibly happen, Mary is prepared to own, for better or for worse, but she trusts in God her Savior, she trusts life because it is God.
And Mary says so, by Luke’s inventiveness, in exactly the words of another woman, Hannah, a formerly barren woman who gives birth to Israel’s first prophet, Samuel, and whose song begins, “My heart exults in the Lord” (I Samuel 2). No one could have recorded Mary’s words, so Luke provides appropriate ones well known in Israel’s traditions that line right up with Mary herself, and he does a little editing to personalize the theft when he writes “from now on all generations will call me blessed,” referring to herself, Mary.
What Luke plagiarized was familiar to him through two related sources: one, Hannah’s hymn, and two, the repeated singing of this hymn by small bands of Temple hangers-on in Jesus’ time who adopted it as their hymn, alternative Jewish communities who had found a way to live out of no way by living in the Lord. Scholars today (Raymond Brown, E.P. Sanders) know who they were—the aniwim, meaning the poor ones, so designated not just for the SES level of limited means but also for their piety, meaning their intentionally religionless piety. Some of them eventually gathered in Jewish-Christian clusters after Jesus’ death.
Their piety stretched back into Israelite history a long way, to Israel’s very origins. They understood God not to be the God of the religious professionals, nor the greatest God among other gods, but a God beyond God, something we call “God” but is Other than the anthropomorphic being that usually comes to mind. It was revealed to Israel that the Creator God forms common cause with humanity, with all creation, with the cosmos—and Israel caught that. At that point, humanity went from worshiping “god the void and god the enemy to God the fellow-sufferer who understands” (Alfred North Whitehead).
How meaningful that the childbirths of three women of Israel—Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary—witnessed to a different kind of life than governed by priests, a life partnered directly with the giver of life. God for Israel is the “mothering matrix of existence,” (Henry Nelson Wieman), whose “judgment” we feel when we worship created goods rather than the creative good. Despite its anthropomorphic stories about an angry and jealous God, Israel still got it across that they worshiped some Other beyond the human characteristics attributed to “him.”
The post-Easter Christians saw in Jesus one who embodied this faith. The gospel writers, like Luke, then wove a story around all the supporting cast, like Mary, which brings us to the Magnificat to which we have become inured by pious overuse. Mary’s calm and her utter certitude is everywhere in the gospels, but it really jumps out at you in her incandescent words.
Luke was never worried about plagiarism—all four gospels are a patchwork of gleanings from tradition and borrowings from legend. Nor did Luke worry about prolepsis—all kinds of things are said in the nativity story that a character would not have known at that juncture. The Nativity story is the original Christmas pageant, with grand entrances, villains, surprise appearances, marvelous doings, and grand speeches like the Magnificat.
I want to warn you away from two particular disputes over Mary that are irrelevant distractions Christians have followed down destructive rabbit holes--
Her purported virginity was a requirement of the Israelite story-teller to meet the standard of purity that qualifies Jesus as messiah, so an after-the-fact fabrication was imported.
Her perceived passivity was applied as grounds for subordination to male-favorable social norms.
So with these things in mind, I hope you are moved as I am by every line of the Magnificat, by every phrase and every word. What a start to the story of our Jesus--his mother, surprised by pregnancy, sings, she sings out, but to whom, to the baby? to her older cousin Elizabeth who is also surprised by pregnancy? To God? --to us?
Or could it possibly, actually be our own song?
Mary’s Magnificat should alert us—awake, wake up! Don’t miss your vocation. Perhaps it is calling you from within what you are already doing, or from around a corner you haven’t quite turned yet. Most important—don’t underestimate your divine partner.
This week, at your table, read out loud the poetry of the Magnificat—you will experience how progressive liberal Protestantism is heir to Mary’s creative waiting. It’s not like waiting for the bus which your app tells you is coming but you can’t hasten, but rather waiting that is involved and engaged in the unfolding future.
You will know the love, joy, hope and sublime peace of Advent. Now you know why always and everywhere, in the Lord I’ll be ever thankful!
Elizabeth L. Windsor, DMin. November 22, 2020 Thanksgiving Observed Psalm 100 Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 Matthew 5: 38-41, 18:21-22
Have you heard the phrase “May you live in interesting times?” Legend has it that this is a Chinese curse, but no one really knows its origin. American use of it comes from a 1966 speech given by Robert Kennedy: “There is a Chinese curse which says “May he live in interesting times.” Like it or not,” Kennedy continues, “we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” It is easy to express Kennedy’s sentiments in the pattern we heard in Ecclesiastes: -“a time of danger and uncertainty, and a time of creativity” The passage from Matthew’s Gospel also fits into this same formula – “a time of revenge and a time of forgiveness.”
Writing between 300 and 200 BCE, the writer of Ecclesiastes understood the tensions in which human beings live. The nouns may change, but our lived experience of “interesting times” can also be expressed in the formula: a time to self-quarantine and a time to receive vaccines, a time of an administration ending, and a time of an administration beginning, a time of civil unrest and a time for justice, a time to mourn the loss of a holiday season with those we love, and a time to rejoice in being together safely again in some not too distant future.
These are all “seasons” of human experience, but how does God encourage us in the between times and what does God expect us to do to move from that which has caused harm, trauma, despair, anger, fear and hopelessness to joy, peace, hope, renewed faith and confidence?
The Christian answer is to forgive – 77 times as Peter learns to his dismay. We know that we are asked to forgive as we have been forgiven, but forgiveness is not a switch we flip on and off. Much of popular culture has only a surface understanding of forgiveness. It is expected of us as a requirement of getting along, of being “nice.” It might work if the 77 things you are asked to forgive are your spouse leaving the cap off the toothpaste for the gazillionth time or your teen-ager forgetting to take out the trash AGAIN. But, it is woefully inadequate for the deep wounds of betrayal, the trauma of mental or physical abuse, the breaking of trust committed upon us or by us. And it has no application at all to the systemic harms done in our name; racism, income inequality, separating children and parents at the border for example.
Forgiveness is a process, not a destination. It is work and it is hard. So where do we begin? Christians know the work begins with God. God offers us grace always. No matter what we have done or what has been done to us or others, our gracious God loves and accepts us freely. Forgiveness is ours through Jesus. Full stop.
So, the first step in the journey to forgiveness is opening ourselves to God’s grace and extending the same to those who have harmed us and others. Grace is freely given, but forgiveness requires intention and practice. Forgotten in our culture of soundbites and tweets, there are some tried and true steps toward forgiveness that Christians have always practiced. The first is “repentance.” The concept in the New Testament comes from the Greek word “metanoia” which literally means “change of mind.” Christians add “and heart” to the definition. To change the mind and heart is to truthfully examine the motivations, decisions, and actions we have taken that harm others, and also require us to honestly name the choices and actions of others that harm us or those we love or those Scripture commands us to care for. Honesty can be gut-wrenching and truly frightening to face. But if we are ever to come to forgiveness, honesty is required.
Sometimes, we need help to name and know these hard truths. Conversations with a therapist or pastor or trusted friend, 12 step programs, prayer, reading Scripture or keeping a journal are all excellent ways to hold us accountable to the truth of what we have done or what has been done to us or to others.
Once truth has been revealed and accepted, the next step follows from the honesty of repentance. The Church calls this “amendment of life” What will we do to right the wrongs we have committed? How do we repair the damage and what will we do to stop it happening again? This, too, is hard work. And again, we may need the help of trusted others – and plenty of grace – to change the destructive behaviors in us that have harmed others. It may require therapy or participation in a 12 step program or giving ourselves over to the criminal justice system. It might be as simple as facing the person we have wronged, admitting our fault and doing what is needed to make them whole. It may also require us to respect the boundaries of those wounded by us and to accept that a relationship is not possible and our forgiveness will only come from God. Grace is free and will always be plentiful enough for us to live a redeemed life.
The same holds true if we are the one who has been harmed or if the harm has been done to someone we love. Forgiveness NEVER demands us to continue in relationship with a perpetrator, especially if there is no evidence of amendment of life. We need not grant absolution to an insincere apology nor accept unchanged behavior. There are some situations where the very best we can do is acknowledge that God loves and forgives the one who harmed us or others. And that is sufficient. Grace is free and will always be plentiful enough for us to live a redeemed life.
While repentance and amendment of life is the foundation of forgiveness in our individual lives, so too is it the foundation of our communal and civic life. It is more difficult on this scale, but the hard work still needs to be done. Truth and reconciliation processes are important to our communal life and the more we practice the grace of our own lives of forgiveness, the better we will be prepared to engage in a communal practice that heals civic wounds and wrongs. Even in the public square, grace is free and will always be plentiful enough for us to live a redeemed life. God’s grace is always free, but it is never cheap. There always is and always will be, work to be done. As we approach this strange and difficult holiday season, we must continue to do the hard work of forgiveness in spite of it all. God’s grace is always free and always will be. Grace is plentiful enough for us to live a redeemed life in whatever times we live. May God’s grace be a gift for which we give thanks – today and always. Amen.
The Bible means well, of course. The trouble with the Bible, though, is that it is so—“biblical.” The wording has a formal sound to it, repeating many of the same kinds of phrases over and over--(in the gospels for instance) on another occasion, that day in the evening, he also said to them.
These are not stories the way we are used to them. The place names are from a region distant from us and unfamiliar. While the names are quite specific—Capernaum, Jericho, Judea, Trans-Jordan, the Mount of Olives, etc.—the actions are not specific to the locations, it could be happening anywhere. The names of personages on the other hand we recognize—David, Simon, Bartholomew, sometimes a Zacchaeus. But they don’t appear to us as very rounded or three-dimensional, more like stock characters in a melodrama who with any name could perform the same function in the story.
Naturally, there is a lot of God-talk, which can be off-putting when God appears as character himself—there, see? I said “himself,” as if God were a person.
On top of all this, we have heard the same passages over such a long time, they have worn a groove in our brains into which our mental steps unreflectively falls.
To remedy this, there have been many translations in the last 100 years, whose goal is to render the text accurately and also in modern or contemporary rhetoric to facilitate comprehension. Some have gone down an outright colloquial road, like the Good News bible or The Message by Eugene Petersen—helpful but still not enough to break through.
Do any of these translations get us any closer to Jesus? How does one get better acquainted with Jesus? More to the point, how does somebody fall in love with Jesus? Yes, why not fall in love with Jesus, or at least try to meet him again as if for that first, startling time (to use Marcus Borg’s famous phrase)?
I have two tips for you. First, you do the same thing you would do if you wanted to get to know somebody you already know better, like, say, your own spouse, a friend, a parent, a co-worker, your minister. And that is: you have to spend more time with her or him, carve out some space and devote yourself to the task intentionally—like with your grandchildren. That would be true of getting to know Jesus, too—it is a matter of time.
Second, look for the unusual detail, for the sudden true-to-life phrasing that jumps out of the formality and staginess of the 1st century rhetoric. There are many such details in the Bible, which we might miss while cruising in our sleepy channel. These unusual features give life and credibility to the stories.
For instance, today’s scripture lesson from the 2nd chapter of Mark contains a case in point.
I’m using the translation by Stephen Mitchell—an unauthorized, unecclesiastical, nonacademic genius who has also translated the Book of Psalms, Job, the Tao te Ching. We are early in the ministry of Jesus when he has determined to set out, teaching and healing, into the countryside around Capernaum where it seems Jesus has set up a kind of home base. We learn that this junket has had some good effect because when he returns to Capernaum, word of this has gone out and a crowd has gathered at his house (his own home?). And such a crowd it was—the house was absolutely full and the entry blocked with people. But someone’s need to see Jesus in person was so great that something had to be done to get around the crush—four men had a paralytic on a stretcher—and what do they do, they get up on the roof, probably a low flat thatched roof, and opened up enough space to get the paralytic through and deposit him at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus was moved because “he saw how deeply they trusted him, and he saw plainly what was going on. In Mitchell’s phrasing, we are helped to see the true issue—they needed to be closer to him and went to extraordinary pains to make this happen, and this is the first unique detail.
Mitchell omits some other detail in order for us to see this one clearly. We see the urgency, the pathos of the paralyzed man, the determination of his friends, the conviction that this was worth trying to pull off—altogether an unavoidable and unforgettable snapshot. It is well that Mitchell leaves out one particular detail, because it sets off a new set of issues--when Jesus says to the paralytic “your sins are forgiven.” I think Mitchell wants us to see not so much the source of the miracle (the forgiveness), as for us to focus on the medium of the miracle: taking the pallet under his arm and the man walking.
The words reported of Jesus are arresting, the abruptness of the command and the simple clarity of it contain worlds of wonder because it seems to have given the paralytic agency, given him his proper role in his recovery. The love that brought this man to Jesus, the love he had for Jesus, is the love that healed him. It was as if Jesus had said, pick up what ails you and be well.
Could he have just been saying, I healed you, now you carry on? No way. All the Bible gives us is the merest skeleton of a story, without any explanation, leaving us to make the connections for ourselves. The economy of the story forces our mental wheels to turn—referring to that pallet, so meaningful in what it betokens about that man’s prior life. These details should jump out at you—four men carrying a stretcher up onto the roof (whoa Nelly!), breaking a hole in the roof to let the stretcher down (wait a minute now, where’d they get the big idea!), Jesus’ amazement at their trust in him (this man has a heart), Jesus’ charge to take up your pallet and walk (OK now really!). A charged atmosphere, a supercharged interaction, all of it witnessed by the crowd among which numbered skeptics and enemies.
Then finally, allow yourself to just imagine which of these characters you are—the stretcher bearers, onlooker, the paralytic, perhaps Jesus, if that doesn’t seem impious. The curious thing about the Bible is that it has a way of casting you in the various roles. Now imagine that Jesus is speaking to you when he is speaking to someone in the story—he addresses the skeptics and the enemies, he addresses the paralytic—but he is always and everywhere speaking to you. Absorbed in the action as we read the story, we may completely overlook that at every turn, we are being addressed by Jesus—no wonder people fall in love with Jesus.
Jesus could be addressing us as individuals, and I’ll let you sort out what particular paralysis you might be suffering from in your life, or it could be us as a church. Now you know where I’m going! It is to you, Eliot Church, that Jesus is saying, here and now, Take up your pallet and walk. I bring this scripture to you at this particular time because you have reached a milestone, let me say a watershed moment, with the completion of one round of Small Group Sessions. Now we have reached a moment of Truth, the truth involving the facts of our circumstances, the truth being a sober assessment of the paralytic state in which we are caught.
There is a connection between trust and agency—the point at which they touch is the human imagination, when we see past our present state of arrested development into a future we have never experienced before. I wonder how the paralytic’s life unfolded from there. . .and how will ours?
I just want to say at this juncture: don’t resist—I perceive some of you tensing up like you do in the dentist’s office—don’t resist and relax! Give yourself into the love of Christ—much has been taken away (we don’t even know how much it will finally be yet), but even more will replace it.
Yes, the Bible means well, it expresses what it means very well. God speaks to us in the Bible and invites us into a relationship with Jesus, a true man with a heart, who sees and accepts us for who we are, sees this one little congregation with the usual preoccupations. And to us, Christ is saying, take up your pallet and walk.
You can fall in love with Jesus by enacting your home liturgy like I said a week ago. Take the first step today, and it might turn into a good practice for Thanksgiving and Advent, as follows: we tell stories at the dinner table, don’t we? How about telling this morning’s story about Jesus, and make it a game, someone starts it, the next person adds a little and the next person adds more, at some point someone finishes it. Prepare by printing out the text as failsafe. Write the title of the story on a card folded in half and placed at the center of the table with a candle. Jesus will be at table with you.
Maybe among people who have known each other so long you will feel shy or a little foolish. Nevermind! Why not become a fool for Christ and see what falling in love with Jesus feels like.
“If you had only been here,” Mary said. “If you had only been here, Lord, my brother Lazarus, would not have died.”
If only, if only. . . how we look back on our personal loss and wish we could get our loved one back, longing for that face, that voice, that indispensable support that we have to do without now, and maybe wishing we had done more, done something differently, that would have prevented this loss.
But can the doctors stop us from aging? Can fate intervene and prevent that fall or that accident?
We flinch when we hear the Psalmist say, “Turn back, you mortals, turn back to dust.” We don’t need any such realism, who needs scripture to remind us we are dust? For the families we memorialize today, for those in the Eliot community, for those who lost someone to Covid, and for those indigenous nations that mourn their long ago losses right in this land where we worship and pray—that kind of reminder is painfully superfluous.
Except, scripture rests on a deeper foundation, the assurance that we are God’s and God is ours. God is where we dwell, and have dwelled in all generations, whether we are living, living well or not, all that we are dwells in God, the sensations we celebrate, the brilliance of the conscious mind, the delight we feel to run, to dance, to leap for joy—all this is not our own, it is God’s, it is God. When we die, we don’t cease to be—we cease to be visible to each other. When we die, the material part of us crumbles, and the spirit continues, however unencumbered, with God. We were never our own, but always the Lord’s.
“If you had only been here, Lord, my brother Lazarus, would not have died,” Mary said. But Jesus actually was there, and Lazarus didn’t die, except in the way we all dread—only Mary didn’t see it that way, not just yet. Jesus proved it to her satisfaction by “bringing him back to life,” although that was unnecessary. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, whosoever believeth in me, shall have everlasting life, and whosoever believeth in me shall never die.” Amen.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent bear it away.”
This is All Saints’ Day when we commemorate the Christian saints, known and unknown, always on Nov. 1, and happens to land on a Sunday this year. All Hallows’ Eve—Halloween—was of course last night. Tomorrow is all Souls’ Day, always on Nov. 2, when we commemorate all the faithful departed.
I’m going to split these two occasions between the two Sundays—next Sunday we will observe the annual commemoration of Eliot people who have passed in the last year, Covid deaths acknowledged, too, in preparation for the Congregational Meeting. Today, when we would normally be celebrating communion on the first Sunday of the month, I want to answer the question that has come up regularly in the pandemic—when will we have communion again? Why can’t we have communion remotely? My answer is—you can have it today, and it doesn’t even have to be celebrated remotely. I will explain.
Our situation as Christians today may be unique. The churches are closed, but not because of persecution, maybe more like incarceration. If we do gather in the Sanctuary, we are not permitted to sing. Communion, as with any kind of food distribution, must be handled very carefully—the practice is so intimate, it does not inspire confidence, although the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has gone ahead but without the wine.
I. I’m going to tell you about two communions this morning—the one, which belongs in the Sanctuary, we cannot observe, for the time being. The other is appropriate at home, ideal even. We are of course most familiar with the ritual in the Sanctuary; the home communion you probably have not heard of, and I have not thought about it myself since the days of House Church in the 1960s, although it has surfaced again in the writing of Robin Myers (The Underground Church) and others lately who have revived the pietistic traditions of the Mennonites, Moravians, Quakers and many others between the 16th and 18th centuries in Europe.
Let’s start out this way: the Sanctuary ritual arises out of the Last Supper of Jesus in the Upper Room with his disciples on the eve of his betrayal and death. We receive through this sacrament the victory over death—it is our key to the door of eternal life opened by the forgiveness of sins, the very teaching which earned Jesus the accusation of blasphemy and the threats of death. However, it is not simply death that underlies the ritual, but violent death. This would seem to be too obvious, because we know and say over and over that Jesus died a painful death on the cross. Whereas we think of Jesus triumphing over death, which he does, the violence of the death to us appears secondary.
This is serious because when violence gets taken for granted by us, we obscure the fact that violence is really the thing most feared by human societies. Violence was foremost in the mind of followers and spectators of Jesus’ ministry. After all, Jesus was baptized by John who was later imprisoned and eventually executed by Herod, by beheading. We should catch the ominous clue in the scripture today where the one who himself was violently killed, said in describing John the Baptist, “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent bear it away.” The violent bear it away. Later, Jesus gets roughed up in his home town and threatened with stoning and practically run over a cliff.
The outbreak of violence is deeply feared in the collective psyche of every community, from the days of that scene in the movie “2001” (where the hominoid monkeys discover they can wield bones as weapons against their neighbors) down through the ages. It is instinctively known how close to the surface our explosive energies are—like the leaking of a gas tank where a spark in the puddle or even near the fumes would lead straight up to the catastrophic explosion. How this is supposed to work is not remotely understood by us, but early societies including the Israelites have practiced all kinds of sacrifice—animal, human, child—to slake off the electrical charges in the air which pose a danger. Early societies protected themselves against the outbreak which cannot be contained until the energy is utterly depleted and everyone destroyed. The need was to keep violent tendencies or reactions over conflict or difference in check, because people knew that wars, once started, cannot be stopped until the fuel is expended—some modern examples are the colonial wars against native Americans, the French Revolution, our Civil War, and during this very election season you can see how anxious we have become about the prospect of violence that menaces.
The sacrificial victim in those days served ritually to dissipate the violent energies. Some of this got into Christian theology, where God performs the sacrifice. The Christian contribution was to see that violence has its origin in the individual human heart where guilt over wrongdoing festers until lanced by the intermediary’s sacrifice bringing forgiveness and reconciliation. But the sacrifice of Christ is meant to end sacrifice forever. But did he end it forever? The public ritual has to be repeated to meet the ongoing need, which is why it is so painful to be without it.
Telling this story in its cosmic and spiritual and societal dimensions, with all its ambiguities and contradictions, requires the public ritual to take place in the Sanctuary and all the arts of drama, poetry, music, choreography, and set-building are employed. We unite there in a public setting to become part of the story and to partake shoulder to shoulder with each other, with Christ as host and with Christ’s representative (clergy) officiating.
II. That’s the public version of communion, the most familiar one, premised on the meal in the Upper Room. Before that meal, before it chronologically, and blocked from our view by the meal in the Upper Room, are the numerous meals Jesus took with his followers, with the skeptics, with the hoi polloi, with sinners and collaborators with the enemy, the downtrodden and oppressed. These meals are familiar to you, because they were the hallmark of Jesus’ ministry. In person, Jesus was transparent to the Word, to the Logos; Jesus disclosed in his person the forgiving foundation of the world. During these intimate occasions, he is variously described as radiant, compelling, irresistible. The day-to-day interaction with Jesus inspired joy, possibly hilarity. He and his followers did not fast, as John’s disciples did, and they were accused (falsely) of gluttony and drunkenness. The great Roman Catholic New Testament scholar, Edward Schillebeeckx, once wrote, “Being sad in Jesus’ presence was an existential impossibility.” Because, he went on, “Jesus showed himself to be a man of liberty, a free man, whose sovereign freedom never worked to his own advantage but always to the benefit of others, as an expression of God’s free and loving approach to men and to women.” “To believe in Jesus is to put one’s trust gladly, gladly, in God.” In another place, Jesus said that you can’t fast in the presence of the Bridegroom (himself), thus implying that with Christ you are always attending a wedding feast.
And there is our mandate—we can summon Christ, if we declare a feast! We can invoke Christ’s presence at home to commune with him and with each other. This “communion” is perfect for the home: it is the domestic version of the public meal with Jesus, and why not? At home, we can show the marks of our family life and let it all hang out, as we cannot do quite so completely in the Sanctuary—the remembrance summoned of Jesus here is of Jesus prior to the death threats and prior to the violent death itself.
III. Here are four specific steps I propose we can take:
We dance at weddings don’t we, to let some joy out? What form could that “dance” take at home, say perhaps, by joining hands and making one circuit around the dinner table, or by weaving garlands of flowers to wear.
We tell stories at the dinner table, don’t we? How about telling one of the stories about Jesus, or tell one that Jesus told (e.g., parables)—we could make it a game, someone starts it, the next person adds a little and the next person adds more, at some point someone finishes it. Someone can prepare by choosing the story and printing out the text as failsafe. First, write the title of the story on a card folded in half and placed at the center of the table with a candle.
The food has been prepared and brought to the table, but extra thought has been given to buy a loaf of bread in advance, an actual loaf of bread, that someone can break and make the sign of the cross over it. The youngest person able to do so might be elected to give this sign that the meal has begun. Breaking bread hints at the tragic part of the story at the same time that we share it with others for nourishment, for fellowship, for intimate concourse. Let there be crumbs as the crust crunches, and laughter at the mess.
Let there be festivity, but not disorderliness—food is not a toy and many people around the world (some say ⅔ of the human population) have no or very little food. They should be remembered, so let it be a frugal feast. Think of trying this for Thanksgiving Day itself.
So, this is your “liturgy:” it’s a Eucharist (which means thanksgiving in Greek) with a small “e” (Miriam Therese Winter). It can be celebrated as a family, or a couple or alone, in any case, kind of like the Jewish Passover Seder which is celebrated at home—a meal with blessing, candlelight, a story, and a prayer—what a nice parallel with the Last Supper which in three of the gospels is a Passover meal when it was remembered that houses during Israel’s slavery in Egypt were marked with the blood of a lamb so that the angel of death would pass over.
In both settings, we experience the presence of Jesus—but in one, we participate with the solemnity fitting for a public occasion, whereas in the other, we participate with a certain levity afforded by its being a private event. Com-union erases the dividing line between the living and the dead, one through tragedy, and the other through comedy, if you’ll pardon the literary and secular vocabulary. Tragedy, because Salvation comes not outside of violence but within it. Comedy, because love and laughter rule in the kingdom of God. At table with Christ, the violence symbolized by the breaking of bread, and the extravagant hospitality symbolized by eating at an actual dinner table, converge. In both, we unite with the mystical Body of Christ. In this particular time, it is more important than ever to celebrate.
Holy Communion requires attendance in person—eye contact, naming the communicant, sitting in common and sharing in common, hearing the same words and the same Word, receiving the forgiveness auditorily—not by remote control. Christian denominations require that Holy Communion be administered by an ordained person (except in the Quaker tradition which has neither clergy nor communion). But at home I’m saying, you can experience Christ another way—not even remotely! Let’s practice and compare notes.