From the Interim Sabbatical Rector
A few weeks ago I wrote about the role the Daily Office plays in the Christian community’s life of prayer. Today I’d like to write about the Eucharist. Actually, what I’d really like to do is share what one second-century Christian had to say about the Eucharist. Here’s a description from Justin Martyr, who lived in Rome in about the year 150, of what his church community was accustomed to doing on Sundays. As you read it, see how many points of correspondence you can find between what Justin says and what we do on Sundays at All Souls:
On the day called Sunday, all who live in the cities or the country are gathered together, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as there is time. When the reader is finished, the presider gives a discourse, exhorting and inviting us to imitate these good things. Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. And when we have concluded the prayer, bread is set out, together with wine mixed with water. The presider offers up prayer and thanksgiving as well as he can, and the people give their assent by saying the Amen. There is a distribution of the consecrated gifts and each person participates, and they are sent by the deacons to those who are not present. Those who can afford to do so give what they wish, according to each one’s choice, and the collection is deposited with the presider, and he aids orphans and widows. . . . We all hold this meeting together on the day called Sunday since it is the first day, the day on which God transformed darkness and matter and made the world, and Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead on the same day. (from Justin’s First Apology, ch. 67)
It’s all there, really, isn’t it? The gathering on Sunday, the day of creation and of resurrection. The reading of the scriptures, both prophets and apostles—old scriptures and new. Preaching. The prayers of the people. Thanksgiving over the bread and cup, ratified by the people’s Great “Amen.” The sharing of the gifts, including with those who couldn’t be present—just as we send our folks out to carry the sacrament to our hospitalized or homebound parishioners or to our sisters and brothers at Kyakameena. And the sharing of our resources to do God’s work in the world, with a special connection to those who are poor or on the margins. That’s Eucharist: the gathering of the Body of Christ, to share in the Body and Blood of Christ.
Over the next several weeks we’ll be hearing a series of readings from John’s gospel: first the feeding of the five thousand, then Jesus’ famous “I am the bread of life” discourse spread over the next few Sundays. It’s a good time to reflect on what it means to be a people of the Eucharist. Since the very beginning, Christians have gathered around Christ’s table to feed and be fed. As St. Augustine wrote, there’s a deep correspondence between the church as Body of Christ and the eucharistic bread as Body of Christ: “It is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table. . . . Be what you see; receive what you are” (Sermon 272).
We are the Body of Christ. This Sunday, once again, we’ll assemble, just as Christians have been doing over and over through the centuries, to be the Body of Christ gathered together in communion with so many of our siblings throughout all space and time. See you there.
P.S. Last week I wrote about the Benedictine qualities of stability, obedience, and conversion of life, and invited you to share which of the three elements you’re feeling most nourished by in our life at All Souls, and which you might be drawn toward having more of. I’ve only heard from four or five folks so far, but would love to hear more. If you have just a minute or so, you can share your own response here:
From the Senior Warden
Greetings from beautiful Mexico! As some of you know, every summer I visit my home country, and as part of my visit, I usually attend at least one Sunday Eucharist at the Anglican Cathedral in Mexico City. This is the church where both my paternal and maternal grandparents got married, where my parents met in youth group and later got married, and where I was baptized, confirmed, and eventually got married as well. My first child was also baptized in that church, a beautiful XVII century building in the center of Mexico City, where Episcopalians/Anglicans have been worshiping for over 100 years. My family, then, has a long tradition in the Anglican Church of Mexico, which until twenty years ago was part of the IX Province of the Episcopal Church, before becoming autonomous.
Being an Episcopalian in a majority Roman Catholic country was something that I always felt very fortunate and proud about. As I grew up, I became more and more aware of the differences between my church and the Catholic church, and I also had close experiences with some of the main Protestant churches. This only strengthened my choice to remain in the Episcopal Church up to this day.
Among the many elements that affirmed my Episcopalian/Anglican identity was the strong sense of belonging to a faith community, not only in my Parish and my Diocese, but also to the larger body of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
One of my most vivid and meaningful memories of feeling “in communion” happened when my family and I attended a Sunday Eucharist while visiting the United States. As we walked in the church and opened a Book of Common Prayer in English for the first time, the sense of familiarity in an unfamiliar place immediately hit us. As the service went on, reciting and praying the same words I knew by heart, but in a different language, gave me an unexpected feeling of joy and connectedness. I remember my sister and I saying “How cool is this???” Knowing that we were listening to the same readings and praying the same prayers almost at the same time as people were doing back home, and probably in thousands of places across the globe, gave us a taste of truly being in the communion of saints.
No wonder we are “the people of the Book”! To me, being Anglican is being part of a body that not only tolerates, but encourages and embraces diversity and difference as part of its charisma, its gift. And amidst diversity, our common worship brings us together and sends us out to reconcile a divided and broken word.
In these times when political and religious views seem to polarize and divide us, it is my prayer that we embrace and use our Anglican charisma, being witnesses to the world of a way of living and believing that strives for reconciliation, seeking unity among diversity, “that they may all be one, as you Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21).
– Toni Borgfeldt
From the Rector on Sabbatical
Phil will be offering reflections from his time studying and his adventures on the road this summer. He cautions that, like him, his posting will be irregular. You can follow along at Practices for Living.
As you may know, over the last couple of months I’ve been studying what are the kinds of practices that keep communities vital: strong, resilient, alive. Much of this has been through reading books. Some of these books have been assigned reading from the College of Congregational Development, some recommended (or handed) to me, others books that I’ve been meaning to read for some time. They range from personal reflections to systematic approaches. But all of them speak to what happens when humans gather together and attempt to follow God.
Which is actually what Jesus was doing. Some of his teachings were specific and directive about communal practices for living. Matthew 18 is an example of this, in that Jesus gives us best practices for how to deal with conflict in a community once it arises. (because whenever two or three are gathered, there will be conflict) And others of Jesus’ teachings, like about prayer or forgiveness, are interpersonal yet have tremendous influence on how a community lives.
As I wrote about in my post about Benedictine practices, Christian communities have been working on the best ways to live together since we began to organize around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. And these practices that we have developed, are developing, they are practices that can be used in any form of community––families, schools, businesses. As you read through these posts, bring to mind a community that you know well, with these understandings and principles as a lens.
The author and practitioner Peter Steinke has written a number of books over the years, but the one that I decided to spend time with was Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach. What makes this book particularly interesting is not just that he approached common life in a “systems way”, that is, that all life is of a piece and that, “change in one part produces change in another part, even in the whole.” I’ve done a good bit of study in this way of understanding groups, but what I found especially interesting in this book is Steinke’s use of the human body and health as a metaphor.
This approach, as Steinke notes, is not original. It has been part of how humans have come to understand themselves for millennia. Jesus did this memorably when illuminating what defiles someone––what goes in the mouth or what comes out of it. St. Paul of Tarsus used the body as a metaphor extensively in his writings, especially in his first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 12, when he talks about the necessary relationship that exists in a body, like the members of our own bodies––foot, hand, eye, ear. As is often the case, when we better understand ourselves, the ways that we work, we can better understand others and the ways that we interact with those around us.
It is Steinke’s definition of health, though, that first caught my attention, for it is one that may be different than we are used to using. For Steinke, health is about having the system in balance, that the parts are working together, and that the system as a whole has integrity. It does not mean that we are free from illness. In fact in a following post, I will work with the ten principles of health in more detail and there Steinke, along with others, points to illness as a necessary complement to health. Rather, it means that when a system is in balance, our immune system does the work it needs to and that the system is able to live more closely to wholeness. Using this lens, “perfect health” looks different. Rather than a state of perfection, it is a constant and intentional process. We are always looking to the practices that sustain life in the body.
And, in a nuance that is very interesting to me, Steinke writes that, “Health is a resource for life, not the object for living.” In this understanding, it is our health and the practices that support us, that allow us to live, to really live. That is our purpose. Our health, for ourselves and for the communities that we are a part of, is a means to Life, rather than an end in and of themselves. This runs counter to much of the messaging that we absorb about health in ourselves and in our communities. Often what we are told is that our health is the end-goal. If, in fact, our health is the resource that we draw upon for full life, than this turns our perspective and ways to live. Instead of idolizing our body or someone else’s definition of a body, we are to live in ways that allow our bodies to be most alive.
What, then, might this mean for a group of people, a community founded on the life of Jesus? It seems to me that this points to consistent attention to practices that support each person’s wholeness, as well as the wholeness of the body. It will mean that the process of living, the “how” of what we do, each day and week and year, is as important, in fact likely more important than the substance of what we produce. Because the processes that we undertake fundamentally and necessarily affect all of the substance that we are.
What, then, might these processes be? That is the subject of my next post, what Steinke calls, “Ten Principles of Health and Disease.”
A glimpse of our Big Sur camping trip
Last weekend, about 50 All Soulsians headed down to Big Sur for our annual camping trip. It was a glorious weekend of laid-back fun, good food, hikes and horseback riding, singing into the night around the campfire, and a whole lot of fun in the water. Here’s a quick visual roundup of some of the fun!
All-Ages Summer Sunday School
All kids are invited to join in our laid-back summer Sunday school group, meeting during the 10:10 hour. This week we’ll be doing an art project in the K1 classroom.
Black Lives Matter Group Outing
The Black Lives Matter group is hosting an event. We invite everyone to join us tomorrow, July 24th to see 3 1/2 Minutes: 10 Bullets at the Elmwood Theatre in Berkeley. We will go to the evening showing. The exact time will be available on the 21st. For those interested, we will also have a discussion afterward. Please email Danielle Gabriel, firstname.lastname@example.org if you are would like to attend!
3 1/2 Minutes: 10 Bullets
“Riveting… vivid (has) considerable poignancy!” -Variety
At a Florida gas station, Michael Dunn, a white man angered by loud “thug” music, fired 10 bullets into an SUV. Jordan Davis, one of four unarmed black teens in the vehicle, was killed. Marc Silver’s intense courtroom-based documentary reconstructs the story from a variety angle, skillfully revealing the inherent prejudice in our institutions and in society at large.
Rebuild the Churches Fund
Many thanks to all who generously contributed to our special collection for the Rebuild the Churches Fund, an effort being led by Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis to support the black churches burned earlier this summer. So far we have collected over $900. You can still contribute by writing a check to All Souls with “Rebuild the Churches” in the memo line, or contribute directly here.