One of my resolutions for 2010 was to start attending the mid-week church services more often. Our church offers morning prayer every day at 7:15 AM, but I have yet to actually make it to a single reading. Because we live about 20 minutes away and because there are five school zones between our house and our church, I'd have to get up around 6:15 to be there on time and look half-way decent. Unfortunately, when it's freezing cold and still dark outside, I have a really hard time rolling out of bed. But it's something I'm still working on. I haven't given up yet. Additionally, our church celebrates the Eucharist at noon on Wednesdays and at 5:30 PM on Thursdays. So far I've made it to three of the four mid-week Eucharists this year, and I noticed something very interesting last night.
One of the things I love about attending the mid-week Eucharist celebration is that very few people attend. Ordinarily I might comment on what a shame it is that more people don't make the time to go to church during the week. But I have to say, there's something very special about attending a service with only three or four other people.
I have built a wonderful relationship with both the rector and especially the associate rector at our church. They know me quite well and I consider them both to be close friends. And while I love seeing them and receiving the Eucharist from them on Sundays, there can sometimes be an assembly line sort of feeling, especially when there are a lot of other parishioners in attendance. In the past, I have noticed our associate rector addressing me by name when giving me the Host saying, "Jenny, this is the Body of Christ, the bread of heaven" or "Jenny my sister, this is the Blood of Christ, the cup of Salvation" as a way of making that communion between us more personal and intimate. The effect is not lost on me.
But despite this, I still sometimes feel rushed to get through the line and back to my seat with the rest of the choir so we can start singing the Communion hymns while the rest of the congregation moves through the line to receive the Eucharist. I don't get much time to sit there and really contemplate the miracle that has just occurred, that I have taken into myself a part of Jesus through the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the true Body and Blood of Christ. It's a beautiful thing, and powerful, that unfortunately many Christians zip right through without much thought. It is so commonplace to them that they can sometimes take it for granted. But having come to the Episcopal faith as an adult, this holy mystery is still quite holy and mysterious for me.
So this brings me to why I love the mid-week Eucharist celebration so much. Due to the small number of people in attendance (last night it was myself, the associate rector, and two other parishioners), we pull a couple of chairs to the front of the church and sit directly in front of the altar table. One of us will read a passage of Scripture, we all read the Psalm together, the priest reads to us about the relevant feast day, one of us will lead the Prayers of the People, and we can all greet each other during the Peace. I get a moment to wish God's peace to each and every single person (and they are usually all people I know well and care for very much).
When it comes time to begin the Eucharistic liturgy, the space around us is quiet and still. The prayers we offer are personal and intimate. And when the priest raises the silver chalice of wine, I can see reflected back the image of us who have come to worship and celebrate together. As I look deep into that reflection, I am reminded that the Eucharist is not only about our communion with God, but also our communion with each other as Christians and friends. In my mind's eye, I see that as we take in the bread and the wine, the true Body and Blood of Christ, we are taking a piece of Him into ourselves... but we are also offering all of ourselves to become one with Him... as individuals and as a community of Christians, always yearning to be closer to God and to know more fully the beauty and power of God's infinite love and grace.
Intellectually, I know that God is always with me and that I am never truly alone. But there have been times in my life of utter darkness and despair when I have cried out to God, begging Him to please stay with me and not to leave me, begging Him to have mercy on my imperfect soul and let His love and grace surround me, to just be with me because I knew His presence would be enough to soothe my breaking heart and sustain me for just a little longer. He has never let me down. In my darkest hours, my cries and prayers have always been answered by a true physical feeling of His presence. When I have been most desperate for His hand in mine, He is always there to comfort me and to remind me that I am loved no matter what else may happen.
For a while now, I have longed for some sort of mystical experience of God. As I have grown spiritually over the last few years, I've gotten to the point where I want more. When I look into the reflection shining back at me from the chalice, I can see God. I see Him in the love and friendship I share with my fellow parishioners. I see Him in all the good works that they do. But most of all, I see Him in the fact that I have been brought into a community of faith that both nurtures my spiritual growth and supports me through my times of joy and trial. The things I have endured, I could not have endured alone. God has given me these people, my family, and my friends so that I would not crumble beneath the pain but would rise up as a testament to His grace. For that I am truly blessed. And I thank God every single day.