Seeing Communion Everywhere
Sermon for April 26, 2020
The Rev. Andria Skornik
I had an interesting experience a few years ago. I was going to give a child Communion — a child I had baptized a few weeks before and whom I had been giving Communion for about two or three weeks. But this time, when I went to give him Communion, the father of the little boy started frantically waving his hands, as if to say, “Don’t give this child Communion.”
It made me a little worried. I thought, “Was I not supposed to give him Communion those weeks prior?” Like maybe he was gluten intolerant, or they wanted to wait till he was older. And this same thing happened for several weeks. As soon as I would come near with the bread, I’d get waived away as if I was carrying poison and not the holy sacrament. So one of those days after the service, I decided to ask the dad and also apologize if I shouldn’t have been giving the child Communion those first few weeks. The dad reassured me that everything was okay. It was just that apparently the child didn’t like the taste of the bread. Every time he got Communion he would spit it out, which then made the dad feel like he had to eat the regurgitated wafer, since it was blessed. The dad just didn’t want to have to do that anymore.
As unappetizing as it sounded, I could appreciate the dad’s dilemma. In the Episcopal Church once the bread and wine are blessed they’re considered to have the full presence of Christ. And so we then treat them very carefully. If there’s extra bread or wine, we don’t put it in the garbage. We make sure that it’s consumed or returned to the earth. Or if you’ve ever seen a Communion wafer roll off the plate, you know there’s this moment where we kind of freak out and someone will always rush in to pick it up and eat it. Not because we love eating stuff off the floor, or really want that extra Comunion. But because it’s holy, and we’re trying to treat it with due reverence.
The importance we place on Communion can be a very good thing, making it more meaningful and impactful. But there’s always a risk that comes with it. And that’s that we can get so focused on ritual or the ritual object that we lose sight of what it’s pointing us towards. Father Richard Rohr talks about this when he shares about how in his years of giving out Communion he’d noticed that some people would receive Communion, but then bow towards the tabernacle, which is the sacred box where extra bread and wine that’ve been blessed are kept. It was as if the Presence was still over there and not in them. He says, “Don’t they realize that the Eucharist was supposed to be a full transference of identity to them? They themselves are now the living, moving tabernacle, just like the ark of the covenant. Is this too much for them to imagine?” (Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, 109)
This happens in other types of Christian worship, too, where we assume God is “up there,” missing that God’s big leap in Jesus was to come down here (110). Which is exactly what Communion is supposed to help us see.
It’s like in the story of the road to Emmaus that we just heard about two disciples who were traveling on that first Easter Sunday. On the way, they run into a stranger who turns out to be Jesus. But at first, they don’t recognize him. They spend the whole day with him, but it isn’t until later, over a meal, where he blesses the bread, that it all starts coming together. Then they began to see that it was Jesus who had been walking with them and helping them see the scriptures in a new way. It’s what helps them look back and say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?” And hopefully it was not just in their looking back, but also in their moving forward that they were able to notice that same burning in other encounters see those as Christ, too.
That capacity for recognizing Christ may be one of the most important things about the Christian faith. One of my favorite definitions is that a Christian is someone who can see Christ everywhere else (33). Maybe early on in our spirituality we mostly see it in Communion and worship. But then in good and beautiful things elsewhere. And eventually to the places where it’s hardest to see. That’s what becoming more mature in one’s faith is: that we begin to see Christ in more and more places
Though many have equated the Christian life with moralism or good behavior — even though scripture is quite clear that such efforts always fall short — it would make so much more sense for the emphasis to be on our capacity for seeing Christ. Because, not only does that lens change how we experience everything, but when you recognize God’s presence in something — even if it’s a simple little wafer — as we know — we then treat it differently, better, holy. As a result, the good deeds and behavior are a natural outcome.
Alternatively, how many problems in our world come back to a failure to see? How often do we abuse ourselves and live less than the abundant lives, because we’re not living from that awareness that God is in us? Would we push ourselves so hard, and not take care of ourselves, or berate ourselves at the same time we were experiencing how holy we are? Or would we mistreat others if we could see with clarity their holiness? Which, so often our ego, our issues, or our exhaustion gets in the way of seeing. Or this last week as we’ve celebrated Earth Day, we can see how many of the threats to our planet have come about from our failing to God’s presence in the natural world. But how different it is when we do see. What if, just as we treat Communion so carefully — those images I mentioned at the beginning of people rushing in to pick up the wafer, or the dad willing to eat the chewed up bread — what if we took just as great of care with these other parts of our lives? Our holy earth? Our holy neighbor? Our holy time? Our holy lives?
Seeing God’s presence makes such a difference. And for many of us Communion has been a primary vehicle in helping us do that. Coming to this table or others like it, and having the experience of God’s presence with one another has been what’s renewed our sight week after week. And yet, what does that mean for this time where we’re not physically coming together?
I know I miss it, and I miss being in the same space with you so much. But I also believe there’s an opportunity here in not having our regular experience of Communion that could help us get the point of it even more. Because Communion or even worship was never meant to be looked at as the only place God resides. It was never meant to be just about the bread and wine. Just as the church building was never meant to be our primary understanding of the church. But rather God’s people — the body of Christ — being the presence of God in the world. Like in the Emmaus story, Communion is the starting point. The thing that helps us see that the whole world and all of creation is where God is present, meaning that there are opportunities for communion happening all around us.
Opportunities to experience God’s presence in any blessing of bread. In any cup. Any table. Any meal. In any gathering, whether a physical one or a virtual one. In the experiences of God we find in walks outside, bath times. In zoom meetings and phone calls. In the ways God is present even the hardest parts of isolation. In the grief, the morning where it’s hard to get up, the feeling like it’s too much. God’s presence is there, too.
Could it be this time is teaching us what the psalmists and prophets meant when they declared
“the whole earth is full of God’s glory,” or that there’s no place we could go that God’s presence would not be.
When we do get to come back together, the bread and the wine and the physical gatherings will still be important. We will probably appreciate it all the more, knowing what it’s like to not have them. But I believe, if we’re open to God’s presence in its many forms, we’ll come back with an even deeper and more expansive sense of what Communion is and what it means. If anything, this time is stretching us to see it’s not that we’ve been cut off from Communion, we’re getting pushed to see it in more ways than we ever have.
Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019).