An excerpt of a poem by Howard Thurman
Our little lives, our big problems – these we place upon Thy altar!
Brood over our spirits, Our Father,
Blow upon whatever dream Thou hast for us
That there may glow once again upon our hearths
The light from Thy Altar.
Pour out upon us whatever our spirits need of shock, of lift, of release
That we may find strength for these days –
Courage and hope for tomorrow.
In confidence we rest in Thy sustaining grace
Which makes possible triumph in defeat, gain in loss and love in hate.
We rejoice this day to say:
Our little lives, our big problems – these we place upon Thy altar.
The Collect for the Holy Eucharist, p. 252 in the Book of Common Prayer
God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
From Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved
As a Christian, I am called to become bread for the world: bread that is taken, blessed, broken and given.
As those who are chosen, blessed, broken and given, we are called to live our lives with a deep inner joy and peace. It is the life of the Beloved, lived in a world constantly trying to convince us that the burden is on us to prove that we are worthy of being loved.”
‘You are the Beloved’, and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – ‘You are the Beloved.”
What did you miss?
Yesterday in church, we observed the Feast of Corpus Christi. It’s a good follow-up to Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, with its focus on God’s holy presence with us in the eucharist.
Yesterday in church, I celebrated the eucharist for the first time in too many months. That was after 30 years of celebrating the eucharist multiple times each week. It was moving to stand at the altar again. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it, or how important it was to me. Truth be told, I was a bit nervous about stepping into that presiding role again, wondering first if I would remember what to do, and second, wondering if I would melt.
We can never forget the pain inflicted by this pandemic over the past months. First and foremost, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost. Months ago, on my office wall I hung a copy of the front page of the NY Times the day they printed just a portion of the names of the first 100,000 who died. It was shocking. I didn’t want to get used to that shock. We’re now approaching 600,000 in this country and countless more around the world. Taking that all in is beyond comprehension. Stop right now for a moment of silence in remembrance.
And that is only one aspect of the loss. Children have lost a year of school. I suspect they’ll always be affected by that loss. Children in communities that lacked resources have been especially hard hit. Brave healthcare workers and others who kept us going will be shaped by this experience. There’s been widespread economic upheaval. As I walk the streets of New York, so many livelihoods have been taken away. Amidst it all, it has been a year of racial reckoning that causes us to realize how much we are missing as a community
Amidst the loss and longing, there are lessons. There are glimpses of what we have come to see as important. Community. Kindness. Care. There are discoveries about what we have missed. There are glimpses of new and deeper meanings that I hope will bring me to a new place in the days ahead. What have been those discoveries for you? For me, one of them is appreciation of the eucharist in my own spiritual life.
As I was thinking about the eucharist, my thoughts turned to the four verbs in the liturgy. The bread is taken, blessed, broken and given. (For a beautiful, wise and gracious exploration of these verbs, pick up Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved.)
I have missed taking the bread. In the eucharist, we place something basic, everyday at the center. After Covid, as we come back, maybe we can learn to see all of life as something we can offer to God for holy transformation.
I have missed blessing the bread. In the eucharist, we ask God to bless that very basic thing, to make it holy. It is God’s work. After Covid, as we come back, maybe we can learn to see all of life as an opportunity for God’s blessing. Perhaps we can extend that blessing to others, especially those who drive us nuts or wish us ill.
I have missed breaking the bread. In the eucharist, we recognize that God works in us in our brokenness, in our need for healing, a need that is universal. After Covid, as we come back, maybe eyes will be opened wider to the brokenness that surrounds us, and see that crack as a place for God’s light to shine through.
I have missed giving the bread. In the eucharist, we share that which is taken, blessed and broken. After Covid, as we come back, maybe we can grow in generosity. As the liturgy for ordination puts it, we nourish God’s people from the riches of God’s grace. Not our own grace, our own magnificence, but the boundless grace of God, broader than the measure of our minds.
Take time today to think about what you’ve missed. Maybe it has to do with your spiritual life, in one way or another. Maybe not. As you reflect, say prayers for those whose loss has been greatest. Then take time to think about what you’ve learned. This kind of reflection is a way of citing what we value. Those lessons provide opportunity for hope, as we make our way back into community. It’s hope that this season of brokenness will lead to new life, that it will be blessed and shared, as in the words of Howard Thurman, we place our lives and problems on God’s altar.
Hybrid Church: A Way Forward
Join us for a conversation with the Rev. Tim Schenck
Wednesday, June 9 from 7-8pm EST
We’re all figuring out how to move forward, as we shift from the social distancing that has marked the past year and a half. What will the next chapter look like for our churches? How will we as church leaders navigate days ahead? What will we hold onto? What will we let go of? What have we learned? What will be different from the past? What will be the same?
We’re grateful that the Rev. Tim Schenck has agreed to be our presenter. He brings a distinctive mix of wit and wisdom to everything he does, and we’re excited that he will lead us when we meet on June 9.
RenewalWorks: Connect seeks to gather folks who want to continue to explore spiritual growth as priorities in their congregations. All are welcome.
Be sure to receive the Zoom invitation by joining the RenewalWorks: Connect email list. Click here to join.