For All Who Are Thirsty

My previous meditation talked about attending Mass some weekday mornings. The desire came from a sense that I was missing the mystery of the liturgy and the Eucharist by attending contemporary churches for the past 30 years. Recently, we’ve found some type of middle ground attending a lovely Episcopal church near us, where the experience below took place on Easter Sunday…
For All Who Are Thirsty
As usual these days, we arrived at St. John’s for Easter Sunday service just as the procession was starting. Which of course on Easter meant that the only open seats were on the front row of the side (transept) chapel. What we didn’t expect is that we’d have the best seats in the house.
About five feet away, off the end of the front rows of the main (nave) seating facing the altar, was a woman in a brightly flowered dress, often smiling, singing out… sitting in what was clearly her life-sentence wheelchair. Occasionally her son ambled over adult laps down the row to rest on hers, a happy boy with Down’s Syndrome.
In what might be expected to be a parade of “beautiful people”, it became quite moving to watch everyone come to the altar for communion… the woman in the wheelchair just the first of the lame, the infirm, some leaning on canes, others sitting in wheelchairs; all of the rest of us humbly on our knees, hands outstretched to take hold of the broken Body of Christ, the Bread of Life, necks craned to receive the Cup of Salvation.
And all of a sudden I saw with new eyes that these fine people were dressed in their Easter finery not out of pretense, but as part of their act of worship and celebration of the day. Because no one was attired so fine as to be above the humility of bended knee, outstretched and beggarly hands, hungry as baby birds in the nest for what gifts Jesus had to give us.
A little boy, maybe three years old, was hungry too; he wouldn’t let the cup pass him by without getting a drink. Other children came forward, as they come every week here, as Jesus bid them come, whether for a blessing upon their heads or for an experience of the Eucharistic mystery they hardly understand; which, after all, is true of all of us. Maybe in some ways, children understand with their hearts more than we understand with our heads.
There’s a cacophony of comings and goings at the altar every week that I simply can’t take my eyes off of. Today it was multiplied into a banquet feast, Fr. John moving from end to end and back again giving the bread to every supplicant, trailed by four lay leaders providing wine.
And the rhythm of broken, “imperfect” bodies coming forward, punctuating the pageantry, was stunning. I thought of Bob Cratchit’s report to his wife in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” about having taken Tiny Tim to church on Christmas morn, that “Tiny Tim was happy that people should look upon him and remember who made the blind to see and the lame to walk.” Here they came, only their outward appearance more clearly showing their want of God’s touch than mine. And what a seat I had to look upon them.
Finally, in the last group to the altar was a man I hadn’t seen approach the rail. He seemed to struggle to hold the communion wafer, almost hiding it in his fists. A kindly, knowing lay minister with the chalice extracted his wafer and dipped it in the cup, then placed it on the man’s tongue, adding a compassionate touch to his shoulder. Only when the man arose did I see his cane, his uncertain gait and his withered hands.
And as he wobbled back slowly up the side aisle between me and the lady in the wheelchair on the end of the aisle facing forward, her Down’s Syndrome boy playing peacefully between dad and grandma, my eyes suddenly became wet.
As he went along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?””Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (John 9:1-3)
What a display of the work of God I was privileged to celebrate, not only as an historical event, but as a firsthand witness, on this Easter Day. All of us imperfect, all of us needy; hungry and thirsty at the foot of the empty cross.
April 2009

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s