Thea, your son, on the night before he died, sealed a new covenant in bread and wine, his body and blood. Teach us to remember his covenant with you in the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine. Amen.
Thea, my daughter wants to know where you are, so I told her where you are: in her, in me, between us, around us, among us; present as bread and wine, as soil and seed, as papa and mama, as sister and daughter. I pointed to you in all of our everydays. I said you loved her as much as I do, and she got you. Thank you for being vivid and immediate; thank you for being as close as our fingertips touching. Amen.
We came as we were to the table of the Lord wrapped in warm pajamas, I with an alb and stole on top. We blessed your name, singing as we worked readying the table for our little liturgy. Candle, books, cloth, bread, wine: pieces of your presence among us. We crossed ourselves as I greeted all: May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. And then we prayed, and we read, and we sang, and we shouted Halle Halle Halle-lujah! We broke open your word together and before we broke bread we offered one another a kiss of peace. Miriam jostled for access to everything, soaking in a baptism of symbol while Anastasia grinned and mouthed her part, awe expressed loud in silence. I had a flash of hope and wonder at the thought of the day when my children will offer me your child's precious body and blood with their own precious bodies. And I marveled at Anastasia's nod when I asked her if she wanted me to baptize her someday. You have done great things for us, Thea, and holy indeed is your name. Amen.
As a student of liturgy, it's fair to say that I have spent a good deal of my life preoccupied with how liturgy is prayed. I studied liturgy with the same Benedictine community that sent Dom Virgil Michel to Europe to study liturgy during the revolutionary liturgical time preceding the Second Vatican Council. For fifteen years--almost half my life--the way Christians (and others) worship together and how that in turn shapes their lives has been the source of much reflection for me. When my pastor at the Community of St. Peter (then Historic St. Peter Church) was gathering feedback for his D.Min. dissertation about how worship was formative for our congregation, he asked the choir to gather for a special meeting. We choir members had had the broadest and most consistent exposure to the various liturgies celebrated in our community, including funerals and weddings, which generally were rather exclusive affairs. Our breadth of liturgical experiences made us especially important for his dissertation, so we talked with him. I remember speaking up at one point to offer that liturgy--however it may be done--teaches Christians agency and accountability. Where we are liturgical agents, we become accountable for the way we bring about God's Reign in the world. Where we are not liturgical agents, we are not accountable for the way we bring about (or fail to bring about) the Reign of God in the world. It seems to me that for Christian communities who are fearful of becoming obsolete in their ritual practices, the answer starts, but never ends, with liturgy. In what way do congregations pray? If what we do at church is what we learn to do in the world, what exactly is it that we're learning? And if what we learn at church is that practicing the Reign of God is someone else's job, then aren't we doing church wrong? The church doesn't exist for its own sake. Christians are called to live no longer for themselves, but for the sake of the world, that God's radical peace might find a place to dwell in every corner. Any Christian community that exists to serve itself may as well shutter its doors. We are formed in Christian community primarily so that we--all the baptized, not merely clergy--may be sent into the world to do what Jesus charged his disciples to do: to feed the multitudes with that for which they are most desperately hungry. For what do our neighbors starve and thirst? And what will my Christian sisters and brothers and I--as people empowered by baptism and formed around the tables of holy word, living bread, and saving wine--offer them?