Jesus instructed his disciples to feed his sheep. We Anglicans, known for our literalism, do as we were told. Every Sunday we hand the baptized bread and wine. With the tools he left us, we preach the gospel, one at a time, to every member of God’s family: The body of Christ given for thee. The blood of Christ shed for thee.
This claim demands a response; each man, woman and child must say their own amen. In the receiving and consuming, God’s people say yes with their very selves. This is how it should be. Inviting his death to give us life, our conversion is reenacted and renewed.
We greet them all at the altar. The young, full of vigor, are eager to taste the bread and sip the wine. Jesus is still something of a magical figure to them, the one who fills in the gaps in their imagination. I tell them of the blood, but it quickly passes them by, with thoughts of the man who can beat up Darth Vader dancing in their heads. Then come their parents trying to teach them piety and discipline, all to no avail. They pause, if briefly, to receive the sacrament before returning to their never ending battle with the squirmy souls of children. The college students, mostly the choir in our church, make their way to altar. Again I speak to them of Jesus, but the body and blood must rage a fierce battle for the attention of minds encumbered with thoughts of exams, papers and lunch. Then come the elderly, more slowly and carefully. This is a mind unknown to me, a land as yet unexplored by personal experience, but I am stirred by the sight. Is it my voice that they hear or the words of another priest, long since gone, who first spoke to them about the gospel and the coming of the kingdom? For others the altar has become a journey too far, their legs no longer to be trusted on the stairs. The time for kneeling has passed. So we bring the gospel to them and speak intimately about the truth of things, whispering words of resurrection.
This has always been the way of Jesus’ coming to us, when we are busy with other concerns, to call our attention to what matters most: the cross and our hope for the renewal of all things. Maybe at the altar all us hear and receive more than we know.