It happens every week here. You are probably so accustomed to it that you’ve stopped noticing it. Or maybe you never noticed at all. There are Sundays when even I don’t fully notice it: if a door is opening, a baby crying, or I’ve lost my place in the altar book.
It’s this moment in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer – when I’m standing here, behind the altar, with bread and wine before me. After I’ve said, on your behalf, a prayer remembering all the great things God has done for us.
And after I’ve told the story of Jesus eating a Passover meal with his friends and telling them to keep gathering and sharing bread and wine in his name to remember him.
Then comes the moment: I put my hands over the bread and wine and I ask that the Holy Spirit make this bread and wine to be for us the body and blood of Christ.
That’s the moment.
My friends, I have to tell you that this is the most radical, empire-defying, outrageously beautiful moment of the week to me. You could take away my fancy robe, take away the beautiful organ music, take away the hot coffee at coffee hour and the banners of angels and the altar linens and I would still show up here every week just for this moment.
In this moment, past, present and future meet. In this moment, all that we consider holy and all that we label secular or mundane meet. In this moment, everything about what it means to be a saint converges.
This moment is not about my gestures. I don’t have magic hands. What you see me doing up here is just an outward sign of something that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with God and with you and with everyone who has come before us, everyone in the world now, with all of creation, and everyone who will follow us
Let me explain.
Let’s start with the bread. This bread was made from wheat grown by our fellow human beings called farmers. The warmth of the sun, the gift of the rain, and the food of the soil all come to the altar with this wheat. Our bread here was made by a real person who we really know – Sandy Lampert, as so it represents the labor and ministry of our parish.
The bread sits on a plate given in memory of someone who worshipped here before us. And so it is held by the labor and love of generations.
And similarly the wine – it was made from grapes grown in earth and warmed by the sun. Wine takes time. It is aged patiently by the winemaker. And so it is a sign of persistence, and of trust, and of the uncertainty of all human pursuit.
These things were prepared by our altar guild and brought forth by greeters, and they represent all the labors of all the saints of this church.
They represent your work to make the world a better place through your paid employment, through your volunteer work, through your charitable giving, through the prayers you say, through your decisions to forgive, to be patient, your parenting.
All of this comes forward – all the past, all the present, all that is beautiful and hard and joyful, all that we grieve.
And then we do this amazing thing. We assert that these are not ephemera.
These are not mere physical artifacts. Nothing here and nothing in our bodies and nothing of those who came before us can be reduced to biochemical substances. They are those things, but they are also part of a beautiful divine ordering – part of God’s dream from before time.
We call down the Holy Spirit to affirm what was revealed in Jesus: God has reknit heaven and earth; God has crashed through the artificial barrier of time itself and asserted the interconnection and the sacredness of all things.
Make this Christ for us, we pray, so that we can be Christ in the world. Nourish us here and now so that we can take into the world this reknitting, this time-crashing, this connectedness.
Nourish us so that in a world where many seek fame and fortune through deceptive practices, we can be poor in spirit. Nourish us so that in a world where pain and grief are dismissed as signs of weakness or failure, we can mourn deeply and without shame. Nourish us so that in a world hungry for thickly padded wallets and success over against others, we can hunger and thirst for righteousness. Nourish us to go into a world where we are taught to be quick to judge and to score and be merciful. Nourish us so that in a world where it is tempting to guard our hearts with cynicism or distractedness, we can be can be pure in heart.
Nourish us for a world where, if we are minorities or immigrants or their allies, if we struggle with addictions or our weight or defend people who do, when people revile us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely, we can know that we are part of a great cloud of witnesses and prophets who endured this stuff, too.
In that moment of prayer, the whole communion of saints comes together to be remembered, empowered, and foreseen as part of a connected body in Christ.
You and I are part of a tapestry are woven through history hand by hand, vine by vine, heart by heart, prayer by prayer, vote by vote. We are part of the most powerful force there is, which is the power of love as revealed in Christ, who was at the beginning and who will draw all people to himself. Take this bread and receive who you are: a saint of God, faithful and brave and true.
In this week, when there is much to fear in our civic life, when it is tempting to feel powerless and to give in to fear, remember who you are. Remember who we are. Remember that the “we” includes innumerable saints – and speak up with hope.