This one is a bit of a sequel to the earlier piece about Eucharist I wrote.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
April 9, 2020
Maundy Thursday, Year A
The first church thing I fell in love with was the Maundy Thursday service when I was a kid. I have very clear memories of it. It wasn’t a traditional service—we had a communal meal, and celebrated the Eucharist at big tables. The adults drank wine, and we ate bread and cheese and fruit. We said prayers and washed feet. Afterwards, we processed over to the sanctuary in the dark, and stripped the altar, as someone chanted the 22nd Psalm, and smoke rose from the incense.
It was spooky and dramatic and even over the top, and I LOVED it. I loved it. I would look forward to it all year. I would dress appropriately for it—in my kid-brain, I thought wearing all black would be appropriate to the occasion. Like a liturgical goth.
I loved it. The drama, the camaraderie, the lament. And the holiness woven through it all because it all was happening in church.
Tonight, honestly, it feels like a strange, bizarro version of those days. Maundy Thursday is the night on which we liturgically recall Christ giving us the Eucharist—something that we haven’t had for awhile now. It’s a night where we partake in so much of our sacramental life: not only the eucharist, but cleaning the altar, washing each other’s feet—all the concrete, material symbology that help make our worship life rich and meaningful. And in these strange times, we witness it all through a computer screen dimly.
In these days when we haven’t had the blessing of experiencing our sacraments directly , I want to talk a bit about them. Because perhaps, you have noticed, like I have that you really miss them. And I don’t just miss the spiritual sensations of the Body and Blood of Christ. I miss seeing your faces when I say the prayer, listening to people shuffling around and dropping prayer books, and turning pages—I miss pressing the water into your hands, and telling you that God has come near to you. That is what I miss.
In our Anglican tradition, we believe that these things are a part of what makes the eucharist the Body and Blood of Christ. That all of us, gathered together, physically, with our material beings, make the Body of Christ. Our selves, our noises, our hands, our minds, and our prayers. It’s never just me by myself with my magic priest hands. It’s all of us, together, becoming the Body as we partake the Body. St. Augustine tells us that we eat the Body of Christ so that we may more fully become the Body of Christ—Behold what you are, he says, become what you see.
So this means, that while we cannot be together during these days, we fast from the physical sacrament, but it also means that we become the Body of Christ in new ways. Because Christ gives us on this night not just a ritual to eat and drink magic food and drink in order to make ourselves feel better; Christ gives us a way of being Christ’s body in the world—precisely and exactly when that Body is absent.
Jesus meets with his friends on the night he is betrayed and arrested, and tells them that if they want to be known as his disciples, they need to love one another. They need to serve one another. As his physical body is leaving them, he gives them away to be Christ to one another and to the world.
We receive the Eucharist each week, not in order to be holier, and not in order to feel special, but in order that we may be guided to more fully emulate Christ in the world. We partake in the Body in order to be the Body as we go out in the world. It is a learning of how to be Christ in spaces where Christ feels distant. We celebrate the eucharist each sunday, preparing to go out into the stripped altar of the world.
We are the eucharist now. We are the Body of Christ now. The presence of Christ we long for, the material reassurance that God loves the world, and is with us—that is you and I, my friends. We are the footwashers, we are the comforters, the challengers, the song-singers, the light-bearers. We are the Body of Christ in a world that feels shadowed and alone. And now, as it was then, the light dwells with us, and will never be overcome.