An old friend entered eternity this last week.
He was a part of the Body of Christ on earth, our particular part of the Body, part of the glorious stream of life that poured from Bethlehem two thousand years ago, part of an even earlier river rolling through history, dating to Abraham.
We saw our friend and his wife regularly over the last forty years, at church events we worked on together with others. All the while the Holy Spirit wove among us, gathering us up. Now in looking back, I can see that God was teaching us how to love. And he continues to teach us, continues to gather us together.
I thought of these things as I gazed upon the purple-draped candlesticks on the altar in church this morning. The crucifix above was hidden too, the massive purple cloth falling in soft folds toward the purple-draped altar and tented tabernacle. Shrouded in purple as well was the sweet Madonna and Child to the left of the pulpit. We had entered Passiontide, stepping toward Palm Sunday and the great events of Holy Week and Easter. Passion is the union of love and suffering, and Passion Sunday helps us focus on the last days of Christ before his crucifixion and resurrection. In these two weeks, we follow him to the gates of Jerusalem.
When I enter the nave on Passion Sunday, all that purple cloth, burying the images, is a sudden shock, and perhaps this sudden loss nudges me to focus on the weeks to come. It is a culmination of Lent, this loss of Our Lord’s image, this shrouding of the chancel. It says, pay attention. These days are important.
I looked over the congregation. Each person is part of our Body of Christ, and the stream of God’s love runs among us all, gathering us all up in the Eucharist. In our communions, we commune with Christ’s Real Presence, and in that communion, we become one with each other. In our common prayer and song, we become a family of God, the Body of Christ.
I prayed for my son, for whom many prayed over the last few weeks (thank you all!), who is recovering from a surfing accident in Costa Rica. He told me that the day after the accident, when he was in the hospital and word was getting out to his church family, his workplace family, his neighborhood family, and his filial family, he was soon flooded with prayer. “It was the love of Christ coming through them to me,” he said. “God’s love through others. It was amazing.”
Yes, the Body of Christ is glorious. Evelyn Underhill, the Anglican mystic, wrote that Christians form a “school of charity,” a “school of love,” that is reflected in their creed. In the Church, the Body of Christ, we are taught to love one another, to suffer for one another, to experience true passion, a union of love and suffering. As we grow in grace, in love for one another, we draw closer to God, so that when it is time for us to leave this earth, we can bear his love, can look upon his face in the brilliant light of glory, as Moses did before the burning bush, and the shepherds did before the heavenly host of angels.
Today, the Church, the Body of Christ, has a greater mission that ever before: to meet loneliness with love. As the family fractures, and communities hide behind locked doors, Sunday worship welcomes those isolated from true community. We say to those broken and betrayed, hurting in silence, enter our doors and take our hands. Sing with us, pray with us. Be a part of our dance of love. Be a part of something greater, something holier, something more glorious than you can imagine.
Our Lord commanded on that first Maundy Thursday, “Take, eat, for this is my body that was given for you. Do this in re-membrance of me… love one another as I have loved you.” And so we do as he said, we re-member him in his Real Presence, veiled under the forms of bread and wine, but present in a very real sense.
The images of Christ are shrouded in purple, but I know they are present beneath the cloth. The Presence of Christ is shrouded in the Host and the Chalice, but I know Christ is present in the bread and wine, as he promised.
One day, I will join my friend in Heaven, by the river that runs by the throne of God. There will be no shrouds, no veiling. Then, because of Christ’s Passion and his Easter resurrection, we will know the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.