Sacrament: an outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible grace
Liturgy: the work of the people
We gathered together in an upper room, tucked away from the hundreds of others who had come from north and south, east and west to do the important work of electing two new bishops who would serve in the Northeast Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. As important as that work was, we had gathered for a different reason. It had been four long years since we had all been together. During that time marriages had been celebrated and marriages were crumbling, babies had breathed their first breath and babies had been lost, some of us had been ordained and others were still struggling through the process. We gathered together to be in community, a circle of women and children because we needed to be with one another. Not talk on the phone, not connect over Facebook, but to sit in one another’s presence.
As our time together drew to a close, we gathered together in an upper room and began the work of setting the Table. Except, there was no table. There was no altar, no paraments, no white linen cloths. No candles, no stained glass, not even a cross except for the one that adorned Shannon’s neck. But there was a whole wheat sub roll that Julia had acquired, and a bottle of grape juice Shannon had been given in a care package, and the chalice and paten I had used at the nursing home just four days ago was still in the trunk of my car. It was enough. We sat in a circle on the floor of the conference room, with our sub roll and grape juice and over-tired children, and we began.
‘When we gather at the table,’ Shannon said, looking at the four children who were wiggling in front of her, ‘we start by saying thank you to God for all the wonderful things God has done. What are we thankful for?’ We thanked God for our community, we thanked God for the way in which we had been brought together in seminary so many years ago. S climbed into Roslyn’s lap and said her family. Auden was thankful for Mia. Mia was thankful for Auden.
I picked up the next portion of the liturgy. ‘We give thanks for Jesus, who loved us and showed us how to love one another,’ and then we sang ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ soprano and alto voices blending with the toneless voices of toddlers who have not yet learned how to sing. ‘Yes, Jesus loves me,’ we sang, smiling.
‘On his last night Jesus gathered all his friends-’ and we looked at one another, tears in our eyes. ‘He gathered all his friends and said,’ Shannon paused and looked at Auden. ‘Auden, will you lift the bread?’ I clapped my hand to stifle the sob the burst forth as my beautiful, precocious, pixie-like child solemnly cupped the paten in her tiny hands and lifted it slowly above her head as her godmother continued the ancient words we all knew by heart: ‘This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’
When we had all received, and the children had eaten every last crumb and drained the chalice dry, we bowed our heads as Julia lifted her hands and prayed for each one of us. We dried our eyes, then laughed and embraced, our spirits and our bellies filled with the gifts of God’s grace and one another.
*I originally wrote and published this in June 2016 on my former blog, Of Doves and Pomegranates