Andrew Sullivan has been having a wordy but fascinating conversation with Sam Harris on the nature of faith, viewed from two wildly different perspectives. If you have a lot of time and an interest, you can track back here on BeliefNet.
What Sullivan wrote today, though, kept me from skimming as I might have, particularly this paragraph:
This is what Jesus told people: to treat God as an intimate father, to pray simply, to believe against so much evidence that good does indeed prevail against evil, to know that God is not indifferent to us, and to re-enact his last meal for ever as a way to remind ourselves of his love and experience his real presence.
As I wrote somewhere at some time, years ago, it was the sacrament of Holy Communion, eating a stale piece of bread and sipping some grape juice, that reconnected me to what I guess we can call the body of Christ, although it’s hard to find the right words. It was a moment, a conscious contact in a very weak moment, through what should have been (to me) an innocuous and even meaningless act, an empty ritual, that damn near floored me.
Rituals are empty, though. That seems to me to be sort of the point. The cup has to be filled, and thirst plays a part. Otherwise it’s somnambulism, like getting married in a church because it makes your girlfriend’s mom feel good. It has to mean something.
It used to be, years ago, that Maundy Thursday was a busy day. For a few years, at one church, I was in charge of the elements, making sure we had enough (unleavened) bread and juice. At other times, I gave reflections or homilies.
One year, I remember, for some reason I was in charge of getting a notice in the paper about Holy Week activities, and my pastor told me to leave out the stuff about Maundy Thursday.
“If too many people come,” he said, “there might not be enough food.”
Practical. Conscientious, even.
Looking back, I wonder if he wasn’t just going through the motions. He was knee deep in the nuts and bolts of spiritual business, worrying about parking and getting enough Sunday School teachers, visiting hospital rooms and making sure the sanctuary got vacuumed. It’s a busy week for ministry, and he had a lot on his plate.
And, of course, Protestants tend to sometimes get a little skeptical about sacraments.
I miss a lot of things. I miss walking into churches and feeling at home. I miss helping. I miss being needed. I miss Maundy Thursday meals.
Tonight I’ll be in another church, needed in a way, at least to unlock the doors and start the coffee. There’ll be no meal, although sometimes people bring donuts. There’ll be no homilies, just a few basic truths about being lost and getting found.
It won’t be the same, but it’ll be something. Hungry people, trying to remember, searching for help, learning where to find it.
The last supper of Jesus won’t come up, I can practically guarantee it, but it’ll be on my mind anyway. That, and forgiveness and redemption, and the notion that somehow, in some way, I believe there will always be enough food, and that it’s not worth worrying about.