There are so many ways we can experience the sacred in this world, even within the parameters of one act, repeated again and again—a ritual. Over the last two days, I have seen God in profound new ways within the ritual of communion.
One of the things I love most about my church is that we celebrate communion together each week. This is somewhat abnormal for Methodists. Even more so for that reason, I think, do I appreciate the time being taken for this ritual in each and every service.
Yesterday, following a sermon on the pure in heart (Mt. 5:8) and a beautiful time of reflection and prayer led by a friend (who happened to be liturgist), I was feeling a little bit worn down on myself. That’s happened several times lately—the sanctuary at Eastside is so tangibly sacred to me and I get this sense of myself that wells up and I become aware of every imperfection, mistake, and regret because it stands so starkly in contrast to the beauty of worship and community and God’s self, there among it all. (This has been a largely healthy in-tune-ness with myself, I think—it’s good that I’ve allowed myself to feel those things). This stark self-awareness was expressed yesterday through the repetition in prayer of the phrase, “Woe to me, I am a woman of unclean lips.” This is a phrase taken from the prophet Isaiah’s call narrative, in Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah approaches the throne of God and thusly bewails his inadequacy to be there. Woe to me, he says, I daren’t even approach the place of God’s dwelling due to my uncleanliness and profanity. How deeply true I felt that to be of myself yesterday. And as this phrase echoed in my mind in the moments leading up to the celebration of communion, I saw in a new way how terribly unworthy I am to be loved by such a holy God. And yet I am offered a place at the table of grace, I share in this holy meal. Me, the woman of unclean lips, tastes and shares in the feast of God. Somehow, the implications of that paradox of grace struck me in a new and mighty way yesterday—this paradox that is always and constantly true.
During the communion liturgy, we sing a sanctus hymn that also has resonances in Isaiah 6. “Holy you are/you are holy.” This is my favorite part of the liturgy because, besides being a huge fan of actually singing the responses, I also find something despairingly beautiful about the way in which we, profane beings save for God’s grace, gather together to hymn the ineffable holiness of our great God. We join together in doing so, as the liturgy says, with all the host of heaven and earth—I love that, too.
My experience of communion at church on Sunday was primarily that of a recipient. Today, in school chapel, we had a Eucharist service during I served as one of the chalice bearers. I’ve always been touched by the act of serving communion, and it is no exception to serve hundreds of young children, many of whom are students of mine. I am again humbled to be a part of this great mystery during which God draws so near to us, regardless of who we are or what it is that we carry with us when we come.