Lydia E. Muñoz, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference
I’ll never forget that day. It was a Sunday like any Sunday, but not. I had prepared the Communion elements for worship that morning in our small, new church start fellowship. It is my commitment to develop this new faith community rooted and grounded in the practice of weekly Eucharist, but this Sunday I decided to take my time with each of the rubrics and explain them to these mostly new people in the faith, seekers who are still unsure and people who had been pushed away by the church for one reason or another. I probably could have given long theological discourses about each part, and filled those gathered with Scripture, but I decided to let them reflect on each of the basic movements of the Eucharist and to give them information about the early church at its practice of sharing the meal.
I had everyone sit at a common table, made up of a set of long tables to make sure to fit everyone. I realized it was very much like the da Vinci scene.
As we moved through the Great Thanksgiving prayer, I caught one of our newest attendees staring, her eyes glazed over with tears, and I knew something was about to happen. When I got to the part of the prayer where Jesus gathered with his friends, I asked the group to think about who might have been there. Most of them said the usual, the disciples—except for this new person. She said, “Well, you said that Jesus’ friends and the people he hung out with were usually the ones nobody wanted to hang out with, like the outsiders. So don’t you think they might have been there?”
I recognized that this was God’s Spirit speaking through this longing soul, so I opened it up for more discussion. What began to take place was nothing less than a Joel-like outpouring of the Spirit. Lady Wisdom was in the house! People began to share about their own limited experience with the Eucharist. Most of them shared how victimized and ostracized they had been because they had experienced all the rules that, in one way or another, had kept the table unapproachable for them. Finally, the new person said, “So if Jesus welcomed all these people, can I become a part of this family?”
What do you think I said? I nearly fell out of my seat! God’s grace stepped in and drew this individual until she opened her heart completely to God.
One thing that I have not yet mentioned was that this lady had shared previously with me that she was an atheist and did not believe in the church. So much for that!
Of all the ways the gathered community has of unleashing the life-giving power of the resurrected Christ in the world, I cannot think of a more effective tool than worship through the sacraments. It is here that we declare that what is wrong is to be made right. It is in the midst of water and table fellowship that we are reminded that we are sacred and valuable, that our differences are assets and do not keep us from our oneness. In spite of the labels that society places on us, such as, “single-mom,” “divorced,” “working class,” “educated/not educated,” “documented” or “undocumented,” and so on, and even the ways we identify ourselves, all of us without exception are given power to be witnesses of God’s grand dream.
These incredible celebrations within communities of faith should be full of the energy that the first community of faith encountered in Acts 2 when the power of the Holy Spirit came upon it. These believers became free to be witnesses to all the ends of the earth. Those who had been once locked away in hiding, afraid of the world around them and what would become of them, stepped out to embrace the wonder-working power of God and became a community with a common purpose and vision. This was power unleashed, power experienced by all who surrendered to it and allowed their mouths to become the mouthpieces of God, even if it meant they spoke in languages that were not their own. From that moment forward the definition of community and home changed forever for these people. Home is no longer a place of familiarity, where everyone acts the same, loves the same, looks and speaks the same, worships the same, and therefore feels comfortable. Rather, home is a place that challenges us to break away from the safe and familiar, to step out on faith and embrace the world, so that the world in all its diversity is now our home. (I wonder if at that moment, when the mighty winds of the Spirit came rushing in, those gathered remembered Jesus’ words “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”)
Would that we become intentional about our times of worship, and specifically through our celebrations of baptism and the Eucharist, to help usher in gusts of Spirit wind into our communities. But too frequently, I bear witness to careless preparations and clumsy liturgy that is often full of words that most folks never understand, thus making the divide between “us and them” even greater. What would happen if, like the popular “flash mobs,” we would be empowered to have “flash Eucharist” or “flash baptisms” everywhere and at any time? All of a sudden, in the middle of the mall or in the midst of a Starbucks, clergy would stand up and shout, “The Lord be with you . . .” It seems unlikely that people would respond, but perhaps we would be surprised at the response we would get from people who have been distanced and disenfranchised from the church. For too long, we in the church have encased these celebrations within our buildings and our complicated rubrics, much like Israel’s failed attempt to capture God’s presence by building a temple that would house God and trying to claim ownership of something and Someone greater than themselves and our church charters.
I often use children to help me serve Communion and share in the act of baptism. For me there is nothing that says, “God’s grace is offered here” more clearly than the look on the face of a child who is extending to you a piece of bread or helping you pour water into the baptismal font with wonder and expectation. It is that look that helps me know the real presence of Christ is among us. In their innocent yet powerful way, children remind me that there is nothing more liberating than letting the liturgy speak for itself, because it is this subversive energy of the Spirit within the liturgy and among those gathered that ushers in the reign of God, even when they mess up.
Cut the strings; let the Spirit fly and move. It is the most amazing gift given to the church that I have ever experienced. May it be so for you!