Monday, 2 March in the season of Lent
We eucharistic visitors have no truck with theology or philosophy when we are sent out into the world with our small box filled with the consecrated elements of our shared communion.
The box in which the bread and wine are carried has a handle on the top. I don’t trust the handle. I don’t trust the handle because Brian Zook doesn’t trust the handle, and he is the one who taught me the ways of the eucharistic visitor. Once Brian was holding the box by the handle – like a lunchbox – and the latch almost gave way. Imagine the bread and wine spilled onto an asphalt parking lot or into the floor of your car. So Brian holds the box in his arms. Therefore I hold the box in my arms too, and think of him every time I touch the handle, feel the fear of not trusting it, and tuck the box into my arms instead.
When you take the sacred contents of our little box to a lonely woman in her 90s whose husband has died and whose friends have all died and who doesn’t have much left to live for and who wishes she could attend church but is thankful that you came to visit her, all the metaphysical questions tend to fade away.
Is there a God?
If there is a God, is this being concerned about our lives and the way we live?
Who was Jesus, really?
Why did we decide that his death meant something more than all other deaths?
Are the desires of the rabbi Jesus in anyway represented by the modern Church? Or have all his dreams been washed away by two thousand years of ecclesial accretions?
These are the kinds of questions I ask myself all the time. But not when it is my Sunday to leave Saint Francis Episcopal Church with the box. Not when I enter the room of a small woman and take her fragile hand in mine. Not when I look at her fingers and wonder what they were like when they were young and smooth and held the hand of her husband on the day they were married, 75 years ago. Not when I open the box and set forth the elements with all the ceremony I can muster, so that this moment is solemn enough to match the feelings we both have. Not when she drinks from the tiny chalice with shaking hands and I realize that her first communion came before my parents were born.
In this sacred moment I laugh at the questions and at myself for being silly enough to be consumed by them.
This act we eucharistic visitors carry out with joy is a Mitzvah. I hope my Jewish friends will forgive me for borrowing their lovely word. It is a commandment that we keep. The goodness of a Mitzvah is higher than other considerations, therefore in the keeping of the Mitzvah we are released from questions of meaning or purpose.
And I tell you this: the serenity of being liberated from the tyranny of questions to be present in that sacred moment is a gift to me far greater than anything I could give to her.