“Communion Sunday” by Kevin Barwick

Fish and anchor inscription from catacomb of St Priscilla (Rome)
Fish and anchor inscription
from catacomb of St Priscilla (Rome)

February 2, 2020

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Some of you might remember the Twilight Zone hosted by Rod Serling several decades ago. One episode in particular stuck with me all these years. It opened up with a man sitting in a chair talking about how nervous he was about the soon-to-be removal of his bandages over both his eyes. The doctors said the new surgical procedure would allow him to be able to see perfectly that next day. All his hopes rested on the successful unraveling of those bandages. The next day arrived to find him busting out with excited anticipation of the long-awaited day. The doctors told the nurses to pull down the blinds as the street lights might be a little too bright at the beginning. The doctors slowly unfurled bandages around his head. The man then gently and slowly opened his eyes.  He began to see shapes. Then definitions. Then colors. He began to connect long time voices with people’s faces. He thought his whole life had just changed because he could now see. As family and hospital staff gave him privacy in the room, he walked around reverently touching everything he could. Life now had meaning to him, he thought. Although the doctors warned him not to go to the window, his impatience got the best of him. He eventually went there eagerly wanting to experience everything beyond the felt world. He lifted the blinds to find a beautiful, colorful, exciting, delicious world out there. As he longed for what was beyond his reach, all of a sudden everything went dark. He couldn’t, wouldn’t believe it. He was enraged! He screamed, “It didn’t work! It’s a sham! It wasn’t worth it! It didn’t work!” Sadly, he became so despondent that he threw himself out the window to his ugly death. Little did he know, however, that after only a minute the city-wide lights came back on after the short blackout. Little did he know probably he was looking outside of himself for fulfillment rather than right around himself for reality.

It’s a sad and kinda weird story. After all, it’s the Twilight Zone! But it rings true for me. About three months ago, if you recall, after communion and during the reflection time I spoke up saying that I was frustrated how communion was experienced that morning. I was somewhat angry and probably underneath more a sadness that communion had on that day appeared to be taken as a frivolous act as if to appease the gods that month. It said to me we were not taking it seriously or applying the words of Jesus to our lives. In other words, I was being a very good Pharisee!

After the service Deborah and Ken came up to me and wondered if I was referring to them directly. At that moment my heart cracked a little. Because I was in no way referring to them. I thought the communion liturgists were respectful and elegant as they wrestled with unruly bread that morning, and, therefore, somehow savaged a problematic situation. I was rather proud of them actually.

But I was bothered. I talked with Debbie. I prayed. I thought. And I came up with one conclusion… I am still so damn judgmental. I am quick to make conclusions as to what I believe to be true.  Over time, however, I also realized that something still wasn’t sitting well within me. The bandages that unfurled around my head and eyes was about how uncomfortable I was with communion and other sacred rituals. I was uncomfortable because it called me (and you) to a deeper commitment, a broader awareness and an uncompromising experience of the love of God. * Ritual, like communion and baptism, and other intentional acts of death and dying (or as Richard Rohr refers to it, learning to die before you die), and as I would call it, learning to live while you still have life, compel us to go to places that are strange or uncomfortable or nerve-wracking or confusing or angry or yearning or hungry. It’s in those spaces that Rohr calls “liminal space” that propel us to let go and trust.  I don’t naturally like to do that well. If I’m honest, a huge part of me would rather hold on and guard against any perceived threat.

As I read and thought more about communion itself, I found several things that stood out to me. I’ll share a couple. One was that blood sacrifice, unlike ancient Jewish custom and most ancient cultures, seems extremely barbaric and brutal in my western mindset. It doesn’t fit with my worldview of egalitarianism and faith. I want my spiritual life to be easy and attainable. I don’t want it to stretch me to think courageously and act selflessly. I want my faith to fit in an average size, clean doctrinal box that I can carry around with me and open it whenever I want. And, I don’t want it to be bloody or messy.  However, that’s not what I read in the New Testament. I read that Jesus penetrated and totally rewrote the religious world script to reflect a new way of thinking, a new way of connecting with God, a new covenant not displayed on a bloody alter, but rather now in our hearts and minds. That internal organ that happens to pump about 2,000 gallons of blood a day is to connect with the world around us through love, not obligatory service. I now don’t have to perform an outward sacrificial task to obtain God’s favor, but only to show up and love when I don’t feel like it. We are here on this earth not to just survive but to be a living New Testament of a living new script.

That leads to my second thought. I see Communion not as an act for worship, but an act of service to one another. Just like our confession time each Sunday is a time to be honest and messy with each other, the communion remembrance of Jesus’ offering is a model we are to be doing for each other. By the way, maybe we keep our eyes open and look at each other. I mean, we are to be confessing to each other, as the book of Hebrews says to do. The apostle Paul in his scolding to the Corinthians reminded them to get their authenticity act together, grow up and essentially act like you love each other. He said, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” In other words, if you in some form or fashion are disconnected from another brother or sister, we are not replicating what the Christ has done for us. Plain and simple. We need to examine ourselves, to look within, to see if there is anything blocking the freedom to truly see and love each other. Don’t do this as a perfunctory ecclesiastical function of the church. Do it to demonstrate an opportunity to re-live the life of Christ within each of us. * Again, we are to be living examples of a new covenant.

As you walked in to this room today you saw that there is a different set up. Celebration Circle has been gracious to allow us to do something different this first Sunday of the month. You see in front of you a table, A Remembrance Table, that is reflective of the tradition that is used in the Eucharist ceremonies on the Island of Iona. Father Rohr introduced it to me and over a hundred other men about ten years ago up at Rolling Ridge. He spoke of how he was introduced to it himself while on a pilgrimage to the island. It was incredibly moving to him and wanted to bring it back to the US. I found it also to be moving and also demonstrative in ways that raises the purpose of Communion itself. Thank you for trying this.

In a few minutes, after the liturgists read and introduce the Remembrance Ceremony/Communion, we will remain seated and be in silence. After you reflect or examine your heart you might feel some spiritual indigestion, pain, disconnect or block with someone else. I would encourage you to literally go to that person and connect in some way before you eventually come to table. While some might do so, others when ready will walk up to one side of the table and wait for another to come to the other side. You’ll pause. Look deeply at each other, as you take off any bandages and see the other for his or her beauty and value. See them with reverence and love, because they are bearers of the new script, the living Christ in them. When ready one will pick up the cup of juice and say in their own words or the words written down for you: I do this remembering the death and life of the Christ in me. I gave you this cup as a token of my love and care, seeing the Christ in you. Then the other would do the same. Then one would take a piece of bread and say: I do this remembering the death and life of the Christ in me. I gave you this bread as a token of my love and care, seeing the Christ in you. You then bow or give a gesture of gratitude and sit back down. Then others would come up and do the same. There’s no magic or hidden agenda. It’s just a different way to live out our Christian practices.

In closing, I’d like to share one of my favorite and meaningful stories in all the Bible. It’s the one in which recounts the story on the day of Jesus’ resurrection when he met up with the men walking on the road to Emmaus. It says after the men despondently recounted the events of the past three days to Jesus, and he playfully and inquisitively said “What things?,” they entered a home to have a meal. My favorite part is what happened next. It says that, When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus. [The blinds in the hospital room were opened to find a beautiful, colorful, exciting, delicious world out there.] They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

May our eyes continue to recognize the Christ in ALL others and let our hearts learn to deeply burn within us each and every day. May it be so.

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