Elements

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Each week we gather around the Table and bless “the elements.” Elements. A word that makes me think of the Periodic Table. Or maybe earth, wind and fire. Why do we call it that? Bread and Wine. Elements that would not be here without one very ancient, crucial force which connects us all the way back to creation: water. Water: something that covers 70% of the earth and ironically also composes 70% of your body.

This week as I’ve reflected on Christ’s presence in his creation, water has been a theme that has drawn me to the grandeur & majesty of the Divine and the intimate partner that God is in every form of life, yours and mine. It started on a Tuesday, in the afternoon. Neck bent from reading on the deck, leaning back in the chair to stretch and noticing the quickly moving cloud scooting by overhead. It looked like a rabbit. Then a couple drops fell on my face…making me thankful it was not, in fact, a rabbit! But for a moment of awe, realizing the 100’s of billions of tiny water vapor droplets all bound up together moving by and looking down on my life. A mist that has been here in various forms since the beginning. 

On Wednesday am, a quick review with a son before a science test…in which I was reminded of the Law of Conservation of Mass. Einstein took it further with his E = mc2. I caught myself asking…what was that again? 8th grade was a LONG time ago for me. Apparently this only made its way into my short-term memory. But you remember…basically that matter/energy are neither created nor destroyed. The total amount of matter and energy are constant, but they can change. 

I’m not sure why a middle school science reminder took root in my brain, but it did…so as I took our energetic Lab on a brief jog to burn off some of his energy on a foggy Wed am, I noticed the water vapor condensing on my skin, droplets forming in my beard and eyelashes. I could feel the heavy humidity being sucked into my lungs. And I caught myself wondering: where has this water been before? Because if it’s true that it’s mass and energy have always been here since the beginning, then where else has this mist condensing on my face been? What has it done? Who has it seen? What has it touched and why?

In my imagination, at least a few of the molecules of the water I drank this morning to take my medication…once flowed down the Chattahoochee River before any Europeans were here. Maybe some fell from the sky in famine-stricken East Africa or were dropped from a plane on a wildfire, or thrown from a bucket in a community assembly line to rescue a home in the 1800’s. Perhaps some were part of the apples your grandma purchased at a roadside stand in 1977 in the North GA mountains; or were used to clean a child’s scraped knees, or cool a burned hand, or to make a soup larger because of surprise company. 

Maybe some of those molecules of water once created power as it flowed through hydro-electric dams all over the globe. Or perhaps were ingested by a great fish as Jonah was taken in for a 3 day journey. Maybe some had been sipped by Kings and Queens, peasants, prophets, voyagers, soldiers, tribes, immigrants or refugees sitting in holding centers at our southern border. 

It could be that some of the water I drank this morning was used to hydrate your houseplants a couple months ago; or have part of an ancient glacier that crept across continents or touched the feet of Jesus as he walked across the surface of the Sea of Galilee, or came to a screeching halt as they heard him say “peace, be still.”

Maybe some were swept up in a hurricane in the mid-Atlantic and eventually fell on mountain peaks as snow; or have been whipped up in a summer thunderstorm and have seen the colors of the inside of a lightning bolt, colors close to the description of the foundations of the Holy City in Revelation. Or have traveled around the entire earth…multiple times, the whole world that God so loves, witnessing every nation and people group. Maybe some were once on top of Mt. Everest or were used to bathe an indigenous person in the Amazon rain forest, or maybe were part of your shower last week!

Maybe some rolled off your flesh as you came up out of the water of baptism, or off your forehead as a christened infant. 

Maybe some were in the bowl in which Pilate washed his hands in innocence of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Maybe some were the water that flowed out of Jesus’ pierced side.

Maybe some of these molecules turned to wine in Jesus’ first miracle.

And maybe that’s why it wasn’t a big deal for him to do it…that water-to-wine thing. Christ, existing before creation and overseeing it at the very beginning, bringing 2 parts Hydrogen and 1 part Oxygen together and signing His autograph on every single molecule of H2O.

He’s caused it to fall upon the righteous and the unrighteous…both of which we have each been before. And I don’t know about you, but some days I wonder in which of those two categories I more appropriately belong. What a paradox my journey is.

H20…soaked up from the ground into vineyard vines, blossoming into plump grapes to contain it.

H20…taken in by wheat roots and forming tiny grains to be harvested.

H20…flowing over stones that will grind that grain into a life-sustaining and digestible flour.

Creating for us elements to bless that would not be here without it. Basic elements that are more than a remembrance…they are a Eucharist. A joyful participation in His presence which hearkens back to Christ’s in-fleshment as Jesus and stretching backward & beyond. It is bringing into one’s self something that connects us all the way back to the moment that the Spirit of God was hovering over primordial waters and brought forth all life and order from chaos. What a privilege to receive it and to be again woven into an ancestry of saints, bound up in human suffering around us, while also connected to the reality of Christ in ALL his creation, a whole world that He so loved.

And just as his life-sustaining water is freely given and available to all, so is the Bread…so is the Wine…so is the Table. You are invited.

May we be gracious enough to accept the invite, to say “yes” and “thank you.” And may we be gracious enough to realize everyone around us is just as worthy to come also.

Open Hands

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(It’s been a while. Thought I’d share some words from last Sunday that resonated with several. And thanks to the late Rachel Held Evans for her constant inspiration and appropriate pushy-ness in my faith).

As we prepare to receive Christ’s body and blood through the Eucharist, I invite you to hold your hands out for a moment in a posture of receiving. Take a good look at them. And take a moment to think of how, and in what ways, they have been in this posture throughout the week.

When have they received? And when have they truly only received without the quick-on-the-heels inner thought of “now I need to give something back to make it even?”

This act of receiving is itself and act of submission. In receiving God’s grace, we give up any inner ideas that we’ve done something to attract God’s pleasure, to make ourselves somehow a little worthy of it and are relieved of the pressure that we need to quickly do something in return, to repay, lest we draw his disappointing gaze.

When I look at my own hands, I realize how infrequently they are in this posture…which is a problem. My hands are more often in a taking/doing position; and not to cause the feeling of accusation, but likely so are yours…fixing, doing, preparing, typing, emailing, texting, selfie-taking, snapchatting, driving, lifting, writing, sending, holding, social-media-posting, giving, touching, pressing, preparing, folding, tapping, knocking, washing, scrolling, surfing, pointing…but receiving? Not so much. We’ve absorbed so deeply levels of responsibility and work ethic that we even have an English idiom “take matters into my own hands.” We should consider that our bodies often portray our theology. “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Communion, the Eucharist, is one of the ways the grace of God gets through. And when we receive it in a way in which we realize that we have nothing to offer in response to his grace but “thanks,” it trains us that perhaps we should receive other things, other situations, other people in exactly that same way.

“Grace cannot prevail,” writes Robert Farrar Capon, “until our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed.”

This is why I need the Eucharist.
I need the Eucharist b/c I need to begin each week with open hands.
I need the Eucharist b/c I need the practice of letting go and letting in.
I need the Eucharist b/c I need to quit keeping score.
I need the Eucharist b/c I need to be reminded that God stays faithful even when I don’t.

Theologian Alexander Schmemann writes, “no one has been worthy to receive communion…no one has been prepared for it. At this point all merits, all righteousness, all devotions disappear and dissolve. Life comes again to us as Gift, a free and divine gift…everything is free, nothing is due and yet all is given. And therefore, the greatest humility and obedience is to accept the gift, to say YES, in joy and gratitude.

In all honesty, it’s a scary thing to receive in this way, to say yes to this kind of truly overwhelming grace. Yet when we do, something that is richly and uniquely Christ embeds itself into our bodies and imaginations once again.

I’ve caught myself even saying sometimes “let’s take communion.” So actually, let’s not. Let’s not take…let’s receive. Let’s say YES to the gift of grace, in joy and thanksgiving.

We spend a lot of time making sure to use plural language: we, us, and y’all…and rightly so. But today I want to reverse course for this moment. When you hear “body of Christ broken for you, blood of Christ shed for you,” I want you to hear it as an individual that is a part of the Body.

AND, when you receive it with hands in receiving position, don’t say “amen.” Replace it with another word that means the same thing: YES.

Let’s open our hands and say YES to receiving grace.