All Saints’, Dorval
April 4, 2021
Photo by Dion Lewis from the 10 AM service this morning
At the Lamb’s high feast we sing
praise to our victorious King,
who hath washed us in the tide
flowing from his pierced side;
praise we him, whose love divine
gives his sacred blood for wine,
gives his body for the feast,
Christ the victim, Christ the priest.
This will be our offertory hymn today, and we sang it a year ago at our “Easter Sunday Virtual Concert and Coffee Hour,” which substituted for an actual service at a time when Easter rejoicing still seemed premature. Since then, we have walked through an entire liturgical year, almost exclusively on Zoom; but the one thing we have not done is receive the Eucharist. We were on the verge of being able to resume in October, but the second wave of the pandemic put a stop to that, so here we are.
I hesitated even to use “At the lamb’s high feast,” a year ago, for fear of highlighting what we were all missing. And throughout the past year, Chris and I have mostly avoided hymns with overt Eucharistic imagery, feeling that it would add insult to injury to sing the praises of Christ’s presence in the bread and wine while we were being denied that presence.
Going without the Eucharist for this long is – to use a word that’s gotten a workout during the COVID pandemic – unprecedented for many of us. I was baptized (at the Great Vigil of Easter) at the age of four months, and while I believe that being sound asleep prevented me from receiving communion on that occasion, I began to do so as an infant, and have received regularly ever since. I don’t know how long the previous interval was, but almost certainly less than a month.
Some in this congregation can remember when Morning Prayer was the regular Sunday service, and when the Eucharist was less frequent, and open only to those who were not only baptized, but confirmed. Longer ago than that, it was in fact entirely typical for faithful lay Christians to receive communion only once a year, at Easter, and otherwise simply to attend the Mass and observe.
This year of involuntary fasting from the Lord’s Table has, if nothing else, been a fascinating glimpse into people’s thoughts and feelings about it. In this as in so many other things, the people of All Saints’ have been remarkably patient and united: the feeling has been that the most important thing about communion is not simply either witnessing the rite, or consuming the elements, but doing so together, and that we were willing to wait until that was possible rather than moving heaven and earth to figure out a way to do Zoom communion. However, as our second pandemic Easter approached, some in the parish pleaded with us to make a communion celebration possible, and I was glad to do so.
The elements that you have in front of you this morning were consecrated last night, in a service to which many of you tuned in at the time, and then distributed this morning. In a few minutes, we will once again celebrate the entire Eucharistic liturgy, but the only elements being newly consecrated at that time will be the bread that will be served to those here present in the chapel. This was the best way that we could think of to include as many people as possible as fully as possible.
So why is the Eucharist so important? Why do we celebrate it, week in, week out, when we can, and miss it so profoundly when we can’t?
The simple answer is “because Jesus told us to,” and that is true; the commandment to bless the bread and wine in remembrance of him is one of the three that Christ gave his disciples at the Last Supper, and to paraphrase Dom Gregory Dix, “never has a command been so obeyed.”
And on some level, I think that the answer to this question is one that we can’t articulate, at least not in full, because the sacrament operates on a level beyond words. This is one reason that we give communion to babies: because, in a very real sense, none of us understand what is happening when we bless and share the bread and wine: not me with my three-year postgraduate theology degree and dozen years of priesthood, not baby Iylah-Anne whom I baptized last month, not someone on their deathbed who may or may not be able to hear the priest saying the words, not the Primate or the Archbishop of Canterbury. None of us really know what is going on when we celebrate communion. What we do know is that it is essential.
There are lots of fancy theological ways to define what a sacrament is, but the simplest and possibly best definition I know of is that a sacrament is a thing that we do where God has promised to show up. And when we do this particular thing with bread and wine, God has promised to be there. God has promised this ritual will feed not only our bodies with a morsel of bread, but our souls with an infinity of love.
By being born on earth, God became one of us; and by rising from the dead, God brought all of us into the life of God. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we make that reality present once again, not only spiritually but literally, physically, in a way that we can see and touch and ingest.
Our sharing in communion binds us together as the body of Christ, in this community, with other Christians around the world, and with the communion of saints in all times and places, all those who have faithfully taken, blessed, broken and shared the bread. And that is one reason why our tradition has concluded that virtual communion is not a possibility for us: because in order for the sacrament to be real, the physical community must be assembled, reflecting that eternal community of which we are part.
We take this meal, this sacrament, so seriously, that every year, between the Maundy Thursday liturgy and the Great Vigil of Easter forty-eight hours later, we abstain from it. After the elements are consumed at the Good Friday service, there is an absence that corresponds with the absence of Christ as he lies in the tomb. This year, that absence lasted not for two days, but for twelve months; but it ends today.
The Lamb’s high feast is also a foretaste of that feast that goes on forever in the presence of God, as Isaiah foretells in our reading from today: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever.
This Easter morning, Christ has defeated death and invites us all into new life. This is the meal we have been longing for. Come to the table, and be fed.