What If Most Others Are Lepers?

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?

8 thoughts on “What If Most Others Are Lepers?”

  1. I was struck, Steve, by:\”…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.\”If a sense for the sacred begins, as it does in the Hebraic tradition, with the act of setting apart, of separating the \”profane\” from the \”sacred,\” is the temptation of self-exile you put your finger on above built-in? Does purist self-exile come all too naturally to being true to the sacred?Well, I suspect it does if \”being true to the sacred\” really means: \”being true on my terms\” where the \”my\” gets so cleverly disguised by pure conformity to this or that Formula or Ritual, or Law, etc.But if such conformity is rejected, does purist self-exile simply tempt more subtly, say, by way of the \”inner light\” of conscience?I suppose what strikes me more and more about Jesus, most especially as he wanders homelessly around Galilee, is the exposed availability to whomever he finds himself with in whatever situation. Could I be so exposed?

  2. Yes, it is a lonely situation when all around you are lepers to be avoided. You are perceptive and empathic. You did visit me when i was very ill. What I think is that Jesus would watch and wait. Gianni

  3. I confess to a certain amount of glee that such cases occur outside the Catholic church. I thought we had cornered the market on the liturgically righteously indignant. I liked your thought that these sad people isolate themselves by shunning those they believe to be \”unclean.\” They can do a lot of damage in my church, unfortunately. The more people-oriented, creative pastors are sometimes given a hard time by them. I will twist your words a bit and say they are one hair short of a hair shirt!

  4. Baruch atah Adoni Elehehnu melech haolam.Then proceed from there.What does one do when their child passes judgment on another?I don\’t know if a theology lesson would work, but teaching about our God might. And unfortunately, this may not be the God he wants to follow, or believe in. In the Episcopal church of the Baptismal covenant he would still be welcome to participate, fully. Many people long for the certainty of magic. Many people prefer the comfort of the dark. When we are ill with severe depression we retreat to the dark, and not knowing becomes a sort of security blanket. Magic comes out of darkness, not the magic of card tricks or sawing a woman in half, there is knowledge behind those TRICKS. Jesus did something very different in that he tried to show us God removed from the magic of formulas and pro-scripted actions. He tried to remove the darkness that we had cloaked God in. That we indeed today still cloak God with. This poor man has been made a leper by the darkness that is the magic he was told God lives in. This particular type of leprosy spreads by the certainty of it\’s own darkness. Those who are unsure that God is with them and become \”uncertain\” or \”afraid\” will seek the comfort of his darkness / leprosy. Not all will accept this healing of darkness, and there are many who seek their own godhood by proclaiming their truth as the magic formula to God. \”For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.\”Baptism washes us clean from the \”sin\” of being like God. Frees us to be the servants of God as described in the parables ascribed to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Healing the leper.

  5. I was touched by your story of the \”irate man who pounced on us\” for using a different eucharistic prayer. I have been there, done that!When I was sixteen, newly confirmed, and a rigid \”High Church\” Episcopalian, I was in church at Good Shepherd in Corpus Christi, TX, where the congregation had grown so large that the clergy had begun to give the communion by intinction, dipping the wafer into the wine, which does speed things up, but then offering the cup afterward to anyone who wished to take it separately. Usually nobody would come up, so it was just pro forma. I had been carefully catechized \”by the book\”, and knew that Article of Religion XXX, \”Of communion in both kinds\” specified exactly that, so I, all alone, marched up the long aisle with my heels loudly clicking on the new tile floor, to take the cup, while the priest glared at me as he gave it! I felt embarassed, but as self righteous as Paul says he was when he was a Pharisee! But I never did it again!

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