My days are bordered by formal and informal prayer, morning and evening, but I look forward to Sundays for the greatest prayer of all, the Eucharist.
This morning, one of the children, after lighting the candles on our children’s altar, asked a question. It was blunt, but illuminating. “What are they drinking?” she asked.
After realizing she was speaking of the Eucharistic wine, I said, “The blood of Christ.” Then I added, “the mystical presence of Christ. The bread becomes the mystical presence of the body of Christ, and the wine becomes the mystical presence of the blood of Christ. We receive Christ’s divinity when we take part in his presence in the Eucharist. We become more sanctified.”
“Wine containing the Real Presence of Christ. When you become confirmed, you will receive the Eucharist too.”
She seemed happy with this explanation, and we turned to the altar to sing our hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” The red roses on the white linen stood a rich contrast to the flickering flames and heavy carved oak of the altar, the gleaming bronze crucifix standing in the center. The conversation and the Eucharist hovered in my thoughts like a delicious aroma, warm and bright, full of melody. We said the Lord’s Prayer.
Later in our classroom, as we made paper-plate cats, as we glued foam dog masks, and as we watered our sunflowers in the orange pots and our sweet peas in the green ones, I knew the liturgy of the Mass in the great nave upstairs was moving toward the moment of consecration. I knew as the children colored and watered and pasted and sang that the priest was saying the sacred words before the high altar, calling God the Son into the “creatures” of bread and wine. Soon we would pause in the narthex with some anticipation, a slight breathlessness. Soon we would walk up the red-carpeted aisle. Soon we would kneel at the oak rail and receive Jesus into our bodies.
There are times when the thought of Almighty God entering little me is so staggering it is nearly unbelievable. And I suppose this is why the skeptics of our world don’t believe. It seems literally too good to be true, or perhaps even too frightening. It belongs, they say, as I did once, to the realm of fairy tales. And since I am one of those unreasonable folks who need reasonable argument to believe, I understand the skeptics. I was a doubter as well and I find leaps of faith difficult. I want to know where I am leaping to. What is on the other side of the gorge? What if I fall into the abyss? So I am often reciting to myself those reasonable arguments, often reveling in them, paddling in their lovely waters, often ecstatically shouting to the world: “See? It’s all true! Unbelievable but true. So believe! Don’t miss out! God loves us! Jesus is here, now!”
In my novel-in-progress, The Magdalene Mystery, I return to the many arguments for the truth of Holy Scripture. I ask how do we know what Jesus really said? How do we know the resurrection really happened? How do we trust the Gospels? This great question, How do we know? is the strong foundation of belief. It is important. The answer determines the kind of life each of us lead and will lead.
The claims of Jesus of Nazareth to be God are clear in Scripture. His resurrection, to my satisfaction, is proven. His commandments on Maundy Thursday to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood are also clear. Spoken in the context of the Jewish culture, recorded by those who clearly believed his intent, these commandments have lived through two thousand years. Every Sunday priests stand before altars and call Jesus the Son of God into the bread and wine. Every Sunday we receive his divinity into our souls and bodies.
I suppose I’m glad I’m one of those folks who delight in reasonable arguments. For every time I kneel at the altar part of me trembles. Every time I hold the Body of Christ in my sweaty palm I am awestruck. And every time I receive Him into my own body I am astounded.
Every time I leap to the other side, to Heaven with no worries of falling. Every time I know joy. Every time I taste the divine.