I continue looking at prayers that have pulled me and others through in difficult times of trial in their lives, looking at the embodied prayer of communion which has carried me through times of trial in my life and which so often I am asked to lead others in during my work as a chaplain and previously as a pastor. Because I find that it is in community, as joining with others in prayer, that prayer most pulls me through, I am focusing on the words of prayer in the Book of Worship of my own tradition, the United Church of Christ.
The words from the prayer for communion follow:
“God be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heads.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to God Most High.
It is right to give God thanks and praise.
Our loving Creator,
Close to us as breathing and distant a the farthest star,
We thank you for your constant love for all you have made.
“We praise you for Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection
And for the calling forth of your church for its mission in the world.
“Gifted by the presence of your Holy Spirit,
We offer ourselves to you as we unite our voices with the entire family of your faithful people everywhere:
Holy, holy, holy God of love and majesty,
The whole universe speaks of your glory,
O God Most High.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of our God! Hosanna in the highest
“Merciful God, as sisters and brothers in faith,
We recall anew the words and acts of Jesus Christ.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples
And said: ‘Take, eat: This is my body’.
“Jesus took a cup, and after giving thanks, gave it to the disciples and said: ‘Drink it all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin.’
“We remember Christ’s promise not to drink of the fruit of the vine again until the heavenly banquet at the close of history, and we say boldly what we believe:
“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
“Come, Holy Spirit, come. Bless this bread, and bless this fruit of the vine. Bless all of us in our eating and drinking at this table, that our eyes may be opened that we may recognize the risen Christ in our midst, in each other, an in all for whom Christ died. Amen.”
And then following communion, we pray: “We give thanks, almighty God, that you refreshed us at your table by granting us the presence of Jesus Christ. Sustain our faith, increase our love for one another, and send us forth into the world in courage and peace, rejoining in the power of the Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.”
I said in a previous post that communion is not just prayer but embodied prayer. Before moving beyond talking about how communion as prayer pulls us through into other prayers, I think it’s important to notice a few things that the act of taking communion together says even beyond the spoken words above.
First, in communion we recognize our interdependence. In the tradition in which I take communion all take from one loaf, and dip that bread into one cup. In some other traditions all take their piece of flat bread and their own cup at once. This taking together of communion pictures the one-ness of all people. In some mysterious way the Christian story tells us that in Christ God has begun to tear down all illusions of division, discord, and disharmony that separate people across barriers of gender, race, class, nationality, sexuality, culture, and even religion. We are all one in the Spirit, one people connected, woven together. This act is a vivid reminder that I am a part of you and you are a part of me.
In grief and trauma, knowing that I am a part of you and you a part of me is a powerful balm. It is easy to feel isolated, forgotten, forsaken. Yet feeling that you are intimately connected with others is so key. In Christian tradition this is called “the communion of the saints”, the sense that no matter where you go, you are not alone for people full of Spirit are connected with you. I remember a time that was dark just after college when someone dear to me seemed to be near death, and suddenly out of the blue my phone began to ring with people calling saying they didn’t know what was wrong but deep in their hearts they could sense that I needed to be reminded people cared who would be praying for me. I saw then in a practical way that I was interconnected with so many others who were touched by the same Spirit that guided my steps and even breaths life into all things. Sadly the phrase “communion of the saints” is misleading, making it sound like only people truly holy in a way that sets them apart from others and perhaps even only Christian people are including in this Oneness. In actual fact, John 1 tells us that the Light of God which unites us shines on all people, every single heart. Colossians and Ephesians tell us that Christ has reconciled all creatures to God’s self and each other through the cross. This suggests there is not a person, nor even living thing, which is not somehow mysteriously One, caught up in this great communion of saints.
No matter how alone you feel, through Spirit, you are in each moment connected with every faithful and open heart. And you can know, just as in the Harry Potter series we are told in Hogwarts help will come to those who truly seek it, that help is available to us through voices, hands, hearts of others whom the Spirit sends your way. You do not have to go through your dark time alone, but can reach out and find help in your time of need.
I found this to be true in the most recent time of my life, the death of my dear late wife Katharine. I expected to be all alone and yet I found unexpected people popping up, reaching out in comfort and love. I was not abandoned, but touched and carried.
The flip side of this practice is it reminds us we must live as ones who are One.
This means taking the time to truly be there for those hurting around us. Reaching out to be the arms that hold others up. Leaning in to be the listening ear or the voice whispering support.
It means too laying aside prejudiced that says this or that person is beyond your help for they are too poor or too rich, too straight or too queer, too conventional or too extreme, or because they are foreign or the wrong faith. It is learning to embrace all in our path as bearers of the Sacred and of folks of infinite worth. It means learning too to embrace this good earth and all its creatures as having a worth too, a value worth protecting.
The table includes bread for all so none are turned away. And so we must keep lives that are also open tables, where all who live are welcome.
I think if you have gone through dark times as I have, you know that those who live such a spirit make it bearable. Embracing it ourselves can make us, though broken or poured out, also bearers of Sacred strength and life.
Let us do so this day.
Your progressive redneck preacher,