Today I would like to talk to you about many things. I would like to talk about heaven, salvation, hope, connection, faith, Jesus, loneliness, communication, and freedom. This will take us through history, misunderstandings, theology, and finally understanding and transcendence.
Several years ago I was in church. My grandmother had recently died and to say that I miss her would be an understatement of epic proportion. She had been a guide to Christian life and a source of wisdom and consolation during my turbulent upbringing. When she spoke about love, forgiveness, Jesus, and the strength needed to be a woman, I listened. For my Protestant grandmother, heaven meant being in a garden with Jesus. Just Jesus, I asked? Her preacher said so, but she could not imagine heaven without being with her own mother and other 'kin'. Even so, she was sure that Jesus would provide for her whatever she needed. She was a strong woman who changed the world around her. Her obituary read like a textbook for feminism and social activism. Did she ever use those words to describe herself? No. She was quiet and gracious. She listened to Jesus, who was her strength, and trusted in Him. In doing so she was the scandal of her church (she went back to work when her children were in school to pay the bills and eventually divorced her husband). But she never gave up on her faith or her church. She just quietly changed the world.
That particular mass, I was incredibly sorrowful. I was happy for my grandmother, who had 'run the good race' and was now at peace. But my loneliness was like an aching hunger that would never be sated. She was gone, gone. I could only pretend that there was no hollowness inside and get used to being without her. Before I knew it the Eucharistic prayer started. It was then that it happened: The day seemed to brighten and light began to be born in my hollowness. I suddenly realized that she was there at the Mass. For a few moments time didn't matter. I was in communion with countless others throughout time who had spoken the same prayers in a variety of languages. I was with my Protestant grandmother, who was in heaven. I was with those who would come long after I had returned to dust.
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosana in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domine.
Hosana in excelsis.
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosana in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosana in the highest.
Soon after I became warm and had to sit down. The 'vision' lasted while the host was present.
I kept quiet about it for a while, thinking that I was studying too much theology and needed to take a break. My professors, knowing of my great loss, were concerned and compassionate. One pulled me aside and asked how I was doing. Not taking 'fine' for an answer I finally revealed my 'vision'. Her response floored me.
When we take part in the Eucharist, we take part in the Kingdom of God.
You would think, being a theology major, that I would know this. But I was a budding academic who could cooly remain aloof from such fantastical notions as being affected by my subject material. (Okay, you can stop laughing now.) Suddenly my world shifted. Going to church was no longer a pleasant duty but an ardent desire to get closer to Jesus. The Eucharist was no longer just a ritual but an invitation to be transformed by a foretaste of heaven. It became obvious why Catholics and our Orthodox sisters and brothers would place the Eucharist at the center of faith.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that whoever does not eat of His flesh and drink of His blood will not have life in him. This was so scandalous to his followers that many of them left. The synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, record the Last Supper word for word. The host and chalice were common drawings in the catacombs. When the early Christians were thrown to the lions one of the major charges against them was cannibalism. And yet they were willing to die joyfully for their beliefs.
Not only was the Eucharist, as we understand it today, a fundamental part of Christianity, but so was the Mass. Yes, the Mass. Complete with procession of the Word, opening prayers, readings from the prophets and the apostles, a reading about the works and words of Jesus, prayers of intercession, and the Eucharistic prayer - handed down word for word. (For more information read The Mass of the Early Christians by Mike Aquilina. It references all of the bible verses, church fathers, and historical documents. Or you can look it up online. I'm not just making this stuff up.)
Now the most incredible thing isn't that it's been passed down for 2000 years in essentially the same, recognizable format. The incredible thing is the we take it for granted. Something that people died for is now a ritual or some sort of dirty secret. "Yes, I go to church because that is what I do. But I don't worship the bread or anything." Ever hear anything like that? But I had a similar attitude. I was shocked to find Jesus in church because these things don't happen these days.
Maybe we just set low standards for ourselves. Maybe we don't think God really loves us. Maybe we think that mystical encounters happen only to saints.
Let me tell you a secret: Saints are not those who are the best. Saints are those who know that they are entirely reliant on God. There is no schizophrenic divorce between church and the "real world". God cannot be removed from the saint because God is the saint's heartbeat.
Do you believe that Jesus left us a way to ingest His substance in simple bread and wine? Those who knew Him on earth certainly believed it. Do you feel you are taking the Eucharist for granted? Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Go to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and sit quietly for a while. Go to mass and wonder how many people have uttered the same prayers in hope and faith.
I have just touched the tip of the iceberg in my own journey and I have been transformed. Have you?
May God Continue to Bless You!