Sacrament Alive!

Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD  — jimryan6885@gmail.com

Co-pastor of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time —  August 2, 2020

If one is going to celebrate a Eucharist liturgy that glories in the 5 human physical senses one couldn’t pick a better Sunday than this one.  Take a closer look at these Readings and don’t tell me they don’t raise touch, taste, sight, hearing, even smelling to that level of acknowledging spiritual depth in sensory experience.

Begin with the beheading of John the Baptist, continue with Jesus touching bread and fish (now, there is some smelling and tasting for you), and appreciate hearing and seeing the water Isaiah mentions in the first reading.  As the prophet says, “Listen that you may have life.” (Isaiah 55:3)

Now, before I’m accused of just raising the obvious, many of us remember the days when we were taught to mistrust our senses, see them as part of the “devil’s workshop,” and regard one’s senses as occasions to sin.  Too easily were moralists of the past permitted to teach lessons of the sin of evil desire.

If we’re so evil why did God desire to become one of us?  Look, the Word became flesh so God would share this humanity.  God did not become flesh to spiritualize (read, deny) human senses, to remove them to ever deeper levels of denial.

Several reasons come to mind on why this celebration of our sensory experience is so important.  First is the path to intimacy, unity, and interconnection that our senses make possible.  Second is the recognition that this fleshly creation makes us responsible co-creators with God to sustain this earth and all creation.  Third, in this time of covid, is the absolute necessity we face during separations, isolations, and quarantines to exercise our senses lest we lose the sharpness of what they contribute to life.

We are getting used to what I call zoomchurch.  But as much as we enjoy seeing one another on screen and hearing from one another in conversation, let’s admit that only those two senses are zoom features.  How we miss the touching, the smelling, the tasting of physically gathering.  After seeing and hearing on zoom it’s pretty much dry bones.  On the basis of God’s desire to share fully our human senses I completely believe that we need to place bread and wine on our own tables to become sacrament in our zoom Eucharist.  Yes, let’s taste, smell, and touch Sacrament.

No institution has the right to deliberately restrict this sacrament because it fails to see the power and grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit present in our electronic gathering.  As I have said previously, Jesus, the Resurrected Christ, had no difficulty coming through the closed and locked doors of the Upper Room on that first Easter Sunday night.  So, he should have no difficulty breaking through zoom screens.

Turns out that we have figured out this presence of Christ all on our own.  Recently our Mary of Magdala Community has become acquainted with the Inclusive-Catholics Community of Melbourne, Australia.  We began our zoom Eucharists toward the end of March and they started theirs on Palm Sunday, April 5.  Both communities, half the world away from each other, have the practice of encouraging people to place bread and wine (juice) for their own offering, blessing and consuming as a communal sharing in taste and touch even in the electronic connection.  When you are a Sacramental people you celebrate Sacrament not because “church” allows you but because Jesus said, “Feed them yourselves.”

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 14:13-21), after all, is a story of eucharist.  Jesus saw the crowd and felt a connection with the people in it.  He knew they needed to eat.  However this feeding took place – either by actual multiplication or by people opening their own baskets to share regardless of who had food or not – Jesus touched, broke, blessed and shared.  This was the model he presented to the disciples, a way to share that predated the night before he died.

Let’s also pay attention to today’s 2nd reading from Romans (8:35,37-39).  Especially in this covid isolation and separation from loved ones  we ought to draw strength from, and solidly believe in, this statement that nothing separates us from the love of Christ.  I would add there is no separating us from the sacrament of Christ’s presence especially not as the community gathers for the purpose of being fed.

This gathering, this non-touch touching, it seems to me, makes obvious the silliness in making distinctions in the presence of Christ.  I mean, to hold that a ritualized Eucharist – complete with fully sanctioned rites by the institution – is Christ more real, more present, than Eucharist on the side of the hill where Jesus says, “Feed them yourselves” is frankly, these days, a bit ludicrous.  From out of our isolation don’t we actually see Christ present in blue skies and in colorful flowers, the whrrrr of the hummingbird and the flit of the butterfly, as well as in the bread and wine we place before ourselves?  Sacrament is alive in and among us.

So, let’s get creative on the use of our senses because while we tele-gather at one level of community all our senses are gifts of the Creator who desires to be one with us, one of us.  The philosophers call it alterity in sacramentality.  We can call it the love of God on earth – Sacrament Alive!

A Prayer   (JR)

“The Word became flesh.”  To make holy the senses of our body and our being human, creating and desiring God, first you created us and then you became one with us.  May we honor and celebrate our touching, tasting, hearing, smelling, and seeing that reveal your glory and your life in us.  We are your co-creators called to transform creation into an eternal dwelling place.

“Do this in memory of me.”  To create sacraments of symbol and grace you challenge each one of us to celebrate the material of the earth and the words of our love and reconciliation.  In your memory we act today to make real your presence in our homes and in our lives.

Holy One, you desired to be one of us and to eat before your death one last meal with your friends.  Let our desires match your own.  Amen.

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