Thank you so very much for your kind invitation to be present with you all this evening. I know I also speak for the women from my faith community who accompanied me when I say you all are great hosts and cooks!
This is going to be a kind of “Potluck devotion and communion” where I’ve gathered a variety of things that I’ve felt called to share with you, that fall into the wide category of Christmas and Communion. If you will bear with me, I’ll do my best to weave them together into a concoction that will feed and nourish us all for the long, chaotic journey that often comprise these weeks before the holiday
First, I want to offer something that I created when you invited me here a number of years ago—I believe it was 2006 or 7—that helps define my practice and understanding of communion as a Quaker:
One thing that many people tell me that they know about Quakers, in response to my revealing that I am indeed a Quaker Pastor, is that Quaker or Friends “Don’t take communion…” What I want to do now is correct that statement. Members of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers DO seek to experience the real presence of Christ in our worship. As a Quaker, I recognize, celebrate, and give thanks that it is through Christ that I am forgiven and redeemed. What I don’t do as a Friend isparticipate in a ritual or liturgy involving bread and wine or grape juice. This comes from the conviction our founder, George Fox, and his followers had that these rituals were in fact an obstacle to their experience of Christ among them. They felt as if those in leadership in the church often focused on the outward actions of the sacrament, allowing them to become the focus. They also saw many people going through the motions of the sacrament and remaining untouched in their spirits. For these reasons Quakers came to identify and label what they experienced as they gathered and waited together in silence as the time when Christ came and dwelt among them and spoke to them. Down through the generations Quakers persisted in this practice. Today many local Quaker Faith Communities will refer to their time of silent worship, (or as we call it at Adirondack Friends, “waiting worship”) as “communion after the manner of Friends’.
Friends also often refer to “living sacramentally -to letting our lives speak of the presence of the inward Christ who dwelt within us. Quaker writer Howard Brinton points out that “any act is sacramental which is a sincere genuine outward evidence of inward grace.” For me any meal that occurs where those present recognize Christ’s presence among them in the relationships, conversations, and thoughts is a time of communion. So essentially, according to Quaker Faith and Practice, we’ve already been in communion here tonight as we greeted one another, shared food that was lovingly prepared, talked and discussed and laughed together. For, as we did those things, Christ was present among us. It is important to acknowledge that Quaker meeting for worship can also be an empty form, a mere habit, which can fail to nurture its members and attenders. I think this is a part of the human condition-that only as our spirits are engaged do our practices—and that’s ANY practice— have depth and meaning….
Also, this caught my eye in a devotional last week written by Richard Rohr; he’s a Roman Catholic priest who says this about communion: “The deepest level of communication is communion. When we know and love someone we are simply happy to be near them. We feel the power and energy passing between us. That is the power of prayer. That is what we must do to bask in the sunshine of God’s love. The word to us is, “Don’t just do something; stand there!”…To receive the love of God is to recognize that it is all around us, above us and beneath us; speaking to us through every person, every flower, every trial and situation. Stop knocking on the door: You’re already inside!”
Now, that amazing Christmas story from Luke 2…one of God’s gifts to us is that we can always glean new inspiration and insight from a very familiar passage. Last year I learned that United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton understands the manger and it’s occupant– Baby Jesus who was placed there after his birth– as a symbol for bread.
As Adam proposes, the manger is a symbol that affirms that Jesus is the one who feeds us all-like bread– with what we need that answers and feeds our deepest hungers or desires in life. Bread is one of the most basic, fundamental essentials for Iife. If you don’t think so, talk to someone who has a wheat allergy, and listen to the frustrations of trying to find a worthy substitute for it. Count how many times you eat something from that food group every day. From the earliest Bible stories, bread has been the sign of God’s care for the people of God. Remember the manna that is bread sent by God as the Hebrews wondered in the wilderness? Remember that when they tried to hoard the bread, it spoiled? They could never get to where they could trust the divine for producing it when they needed it? Remember that those folks never saw beyond the actual presence of the bread to who was providing it for them or could understand the lesson in having what they needed when they needed it-that they didn’t need to save or hide-there would always be plenty?
Here, in the birth of Jesus-who is placed in the manger-to be seen as food/bread for all God’s people, God takes it up a notch…God says it’s not only the basic life-giving essentials for physical human sustenance that will be given to you who seek me, but also the deepest human longings of your souls that will be answered in Jesus the Bread. Those desires that every human has to find meaning, hope, joy, love in your life; Jesus will feed those; Jesus will show you how to find those. God loves each of us that much; to allow God’s own Son to be given for our lives. At its core; the Eucharist or communion is a commitment and celebration of those of us who accept and respond to the offer of Jesus as our bread-of Jesus being the key ingredient that sustains our lives.
And finally, a story from my own experience…I am the oldest of the three children in my family of origin. I have a sister—who is just 11 months younger than me, and a brother who brings up the rear—he’s 4 years behind me. It’s my sister who’s been the most challenging for me to maintain a loving, supportive, mature relationship. We’ve always been close; sometimes close adversaries or competitors…Even as adults, it hasn’t taken much for us to revert to the “Mom, she’s looking at me!” stage. Well about 15 or so years ago my sister made me a nativity set. I guess we were friends the week she decided to create it. So, I use it –set it out each year–to celebrate and affirm the good about her and our relationship, as well as because it’s very cute! A year or so ago I was pulling out the decorations at my house, much later in December than I’d hoped. I was feeling some of that holiday pressure to do it all; to get things just right for our celebrations. I took out the tin that doubles as storage for this nativity…(show it) and began to pull out the familiar figures to set into the stable scene…this is how I pack it each year to prevent breakage… I found each piece and unwrapped them…and then I realized it. I was missing Jesus! Well, commence intense looking—everywhere he could possibly be; in other Christmas decoration storage, checking with other family members to see if they knew what had happened to him…Intensity became FRANTIC searching. Where the heck was Jesus?! For 10 days we all looked EVERYWHERE…to no avail. Of course I went ahead and set the rest of the nativity and all the other decorations out, as usual. Every time I went past that stable, I berated myself, my procrastination, my disorganized approach, for my inadequacy on all fronts…
Finally, a day or so before Christmas I was re-locating all the storage containers we use for decorations and I saw the tin. Could it be; would it be that I had simply overlooked Baby Jesus? AND; of course there he was, right where he was supposed to be…
I invite you to continue in our time of communion by entering intentionally into some silent waiting:
take some deep breaths
notice inside yourself to see if can you hear or feel your own heart beat
Let’s ponder internally a few queries I will pose:
Where did you encounter Jesus in our gathering here; in the face across the table from you, in the music, in the scripture?
What are the parts of Christmas that bring you into that holy presence of divine hope, peace, joy, and love that Jesus brings?
How do you experience Jesus as bread—the source and sustenance of life? How does he function in your days as that essential core that sustains, enables, redeems your life?
What do you need to do or what do you need to lay aside so that you don’t lose Jesus this year?
Gracious God, thank you for this special time of communion at this special time of year. Thank you for each person present, and the ways they each offer their unique and important personalities through their work, worship, and relationships. Help us all to remember that you are present everywhere and anywhere we are or will be.
Help us to recognize, and save space for, and experience, and celebrate the bread that is your special gift to humanity—Jesus the Christ…whose birth is what Christmas is all about.
And now this blessing: May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, both now and forever more. AMEN