Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Eucharist: A Personal Testimony

Sermon preached on Maundy Thursday at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene

For me personally this is the most powerful night of the Christian year. My spirituality, my life, is so bound up with the Eucharist that remembering its institution is a deeply moving thing.

Some of you may know the somewhat odd way I came to the Christian faith. I was baptized at six years old but was not raised in the Church. What activated my Christian faith was my participation in high school in the musical Godspell, in which I literally acted out the Gospel. I came to the musical largely ignorant of the story and came to be gripped by it.

But I had no idea what to do with that. Blessedly, my great aunt seized the day. It happened that she had become an Episcopalian some years before and was the only member of my extended family who was active in a church. She invited me to go with her. With a great deal of trepidation, I recall, I accepted.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to experience. I certainly had no idea what an Episcopalian was. I could barely say the word! It doesn’t exactly just roll off the tongue. And attending that church made my aunt strange in my family, a fact made clear to me by the way members of my family talked about it. It was as if she had decided to become some kind of freak.

So, as I said, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to go with her one day. I immediately liked the pageantry. After all, I had just been more or less converted to the story because of a dramatization of it. It seemed that in this service the drama continued (and there were even costumes!).

But the main thing for me, the turning point from curiosity to being drawn into something came when it was time to receive communion. I hesitated, not sure if I should go up. My aunt insisted, said, “You are welcome.” So I went, my senses on high alert. We knelt, she told me to hold out my hands. The wafer was pressed into them and I ate. I could smell the wine as it came closer to me and I somewhat awkwardly drank.

I walked away knowing I had somehow been in touch with God. This was the missing part. I said that I had no idea what to do with my new Christian faith. This was it. This was the thing to do.

I attended sporadically with my aunt until I went away to college. I was drawn enough that I sought out the Episcopal Church in my college town—doing the opposite thing than most of my peers were doing, starting to go to church rather than stopping. I experienced again being thought of as freakish.

I became an every Sunday church-goer. The transition to being away at college was hard for me. I was desperately homesick and actually went through the process of transferring to somewhere closer. But that community grabbed me, became my family away from home, and it was because of them that I ended up staying where I was.

It was then that I experienced another important part of the Eucharist, how it is more than a personal experience of God. It binds me to a community. It is something that is always done “together.” It makes a “we” into which I am constantly drawn, a community created by the love of Jesus, renewed in this Sacrament.

Since those days the Eucharist is what has kept me in the church and, indeed, has kept me alive. I literally don’t know what I would do without it. “My life” would not be “my life” anymore.

My experience at this Table continues to draw me to God in spite of those things in my live that have worked to draw me away. So I experience it as the forgiveness of sin.

My experience at this Table keeps me connected to a community so that I have been unable to let go at those times when I have felt hurt by the church. I experience it as continuing to form a mystical bond with others that cannot be broken.

My experience at this Table has kept me struggling with my bi-polar illness and in this way it has kept me alive. I experience it as providing strength for living in difficult times. I experience it as freedom from whatever threatens to bind me.

This is my testimony. This thing we do has continued to draw me to God, has kept me in community, and kept me free and alive.

I wish I could say why or how. That remains a mystery to me, but I think that is how it should be. This thing we do is a wonderful and sacred mystery. When we do it, Jesus is here, that is all I know. Of course, Jesus is here, everywhere, always, but it is here that I feel that consistently in ways I rarely feel anywhere else.

Let us tonight celebrate the love that is the gift of this Eucharist, which binds us together and will not let us go. This is our freedom and our very life. Thank you, Jesus, for giving it to us.

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