Communing in Our Vulnerability
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
I’m thinking a lot about the elements these past few days. Earth. Wind. Water. Fire. Especially fire. All our minds and hearts are on fire. It is a devastating moment for our state and for our community. Deacon Laurel and others in our church family are under evacuation orders. The wind holds their fate and the fate of so many.
And water. Oh how we pray for water. To quench the fire. To clear the smoke.
Whether we’re talking about the vast natural forces of the earth or climate change that makes those forces even more powerful, this time reminds us that we humans are just one part of a vast ecosystem. We are dependent. On the stuff of this earth that our homes and trees and bodies are made of. On the sun and rain that grows our food. On the air we breathe.
In this moment, we are reminded of just how dependent we are on this planet that God has given us.
The catechism at the back of our Book of Common Prayer defines the sacraments as outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. The sacraments are all about the stuff of this earth: water, oil, bread, wine.
And there’s been a lot of conversation these past few months within our church community, within the diocese, and within the larger Episcopal Church about one particular sacrament. You know which one I’m talking about. The one we miss so much. The one we can’t have on this, the Lord’s day, every week, like we used to.
I’m not here to talk about what we can or should be doing at St. Luke’s in terms of communion. The Presiding Bishop and our own Bishop have made it very clear what I, as a priest, am permitted to do when it comes to online worship, and I’m following their guidelines. I cannot consecrate bread and wine that are not physically in front of me, so I can’t consecrate bread and wine where you are but I’m not. I cannot have a drive-through service.
I can consecrate bread where I am, but only I—and whoever else might be physically present with me—can eat it. I can distribute that bread after consecrating it by myself—with proper precautions. And I can have communion outside. With proper precautions. Which we are. Well, when the air isn’t full of smoke, that is.
There have been hours of discussion about this amongst clergy.
But to me, these logistical gymnastics miss the very meaning of the sacrament.
Communion is about the Body of Christ. It’s about a gathered community coming together to remember that we are Christ’s body in this world. It’s not me who consecrates the bread and wine, it’s the gathered people praying together that makes Jesus manifest in these elements. Communion is not just about feeling that bread in your mouth or that sharpness of wine or juice going down your throat, it’s about who we are when we take the bread and chalice together. That bread, that sharp wine or juice, reminds us that it is each of us, in these real, physical bodies, who make God’s grace incarnate, individual parts of a gathered body.
When we take communion, we are reminded that ours is a faith of the stuff of this earth, of wind and water and fire. God’s creation. Ours is a faith of being human, of incarnation, which means “to be made flesh.” And to be made flesh is to be made vulnerable. And to be vulnerable is what connects us.
I think we’re all feeling vulnerable right now. Our bodies are vulnerable. I was born with asthma and have really been struggling through this smoke. I know a lot of us are. Our homes are vulnerable. Those of you living in evacuation zones know this. Some of you are ready to leave at a moment’s notice. And some of you have already left.
We’re tired. We’re afraid. We’re not sure what’s going to happen. We’re all feeling so vulnerable.
But isn’t vulnerability what Jesus was all about? God could have stood back, could have watched us suffer, letting us stumble through our sin and uncertainty, hoping we’d figured it out for ourselves, hoping we’d learn, even if we learned the hard way.
Instead, God so loved the world that God decided to be made flesh, to be made vulnerable, to be intimately connected with us and all of creation.
We are in a storm of grief right now. We can’t contain these fires or avoid this smoke, and that is a real grief. We can’t be close to each other, let alone hug each other, and that is a real grief. We can’t share in communion on Sundays inside our beloved sanctuary right now, during this devastating time, and that is a real grief.
But we can commune with our vulnerable God in this place of vulnerability. We can commune with each other, here, as we meet one another in the place of our most tender truths and most present grief.
We can remember, together, that we are made of the stuff of this earth. We are each fragile, each susceptible, each human. And we can remember that those are the things that connect us, to God and to each other. Amen.