Lines composed on the bus a few miles north of Boston en route to Thomaston, Maine.
I wrote last week about a phrase in a prayer that puzzled me for a while – “shield the joyous.” Here’s another: somewhere in the gospels – I can’t look it up right now – Jesus says to his disciples, speaking of his miracles, that all these you will do “and more.” This was first brought to my awareness on a Cursillo weekend about 20 years ago with the suggestion that it applied not just to specific individuals at a specific period in time but to followers of Jesus at all times and in all places – even us. But “and more”? How could this be? How could they – or we – not only do all He did, but more?
I think I’ve finally got it. And it is an application of what in the scientific field would be called a unifying field theory – that the Church, in its work in the world in faithfulness to the teaching and example of Jesus, generation after generation, century after century, across the face of the world, does “more.” It magnifies and multiplies a hundred fold, a thousand fold, his healing the sick, feeding the hungry, showing compassion rather than disdain to the unfortunate, and inclining the hearts and minds of men and women to repentance of our own sins against others and forgiveness of the sins of others against us. At certain high points in our history it has even taken the form of actually operating hospitals, schools, and orphanages.
The unifying field theory, which pulls everything together for me, is simply this: that the notion of the Church as the body of Christ is both literally and figuratively true to the extent that actual living human beings manifest in their thinking, their speaking and their actions the teaching and example of Jesus.
This unifying field theory even explains for me the doctrine of transubstantiation – that the bread and wine in the Eucharist become the flesh and blood of Christ. It isn’t because of any kind of hocus pocus or magic words at the altar but by the ordinary process of digestion and assimilation in which the bread and wine becomes my body and your body, and our bodies become the body of Christ to the extent that we, through hearing the lessons and the proclamation of their meaning by the preacher, and by entering into the prayers, are remade, renewed, and refreshed into people who then in turn manifest the example and teaching of Jesus in our own thoughts, words and actions in the world. (This notion came to me from reading a description of a celebration of the Eucharist by St. Justin in Robert Wright’s Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church.)
I close with a prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas. “God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (BCP 201, 252 and 834.)
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 22-July-2014, the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene.