I was honored to have been invited to preside at the table this morning by my friend Bill Albinger, rector of Holy Innocents in Lahaina. God has used Bill’s talents to accomplish some wonderful things in this once dying congregation that is now filled with people and Spirit. This morning’s service used one of the Eucharistic prayers from Enriching our Worship, but after church an irate man pounced on us for showing such disrespect for the Holy Eucharist.
As best I could tell he felt that these prayers do not respect the dignity of the consecrated host and wine as holy – the body and blood of Christ. I’m not sure about his grasp of Eucharistic theology, and I suspect there was a good deal more at stake. Perhaps it had something to do with his greater comfort with a more traditional prayer form. Maybe he had some prior experience with services that were not conducted very well, or possibly it was an expression of a great and sad personal loss in some other part of his life.
On the other hand, I’ve also encountered people who believe strongly that there is only one right way to celebrate the Eucharist, and that includes only the right words that must be said in the right way along with a right form of distribution. The whole thing takes on an appearance of magic in which the spell must be said just so or the magic doesn’t happen. I once had a communicant go into a rant because I had not placed the host in his hand according to the prescribed manner and therefore had destroyed the efficacy of Holy Communion. It’s very sad, and I don’t think there is anything to be gained by countering with a little theological education. It’s more likely that that kind of obsessive rigidity is a life pattern that is just a hair short of being a pathology in need of serious treatment.
Today’s lessons were about the healing of lepers who, whether rich or poor, found themselves in a form of social and spatial exile. There are people who, perhaps like the man this morning, suffer something of the same. Though physically present they live in a place of severe limitations that excludes them from enjoying the overwhelming abundance of all that God offers through his creation and creatures. We might laugh and cry with a Jack Nicholson movie character, or sympathize with television’s Monk, who, by the end of the movie or episode, have resolved their psychological issues or solved yet another murder, but that is not reality. These combinations of rigid thinking, behavior, attitudes and beliefs are a form of leprosy in which the multitudes of the others in the world about them are the lepers, and, since the greater part of the world cannot be exiled, a smaller world of exile must be created for the self in order to remain unstained and uninfected. It’s very sad. What do you suppose the Christ like response should be?