I started life in the church as a member of the First Baptist Church of Pitman, New Jersey. You may not know this, but Baptists and Episcopalians do church a lot differently. For instance, you’ll never see a stained glass window with Jesus on a cross in a Baptist Church. That’s because Baptists focus on the resurrection. The empty crosses in their sanctuaries are reminders that from the moment Jesus’ friends found his tomb empty there has only been Easter for all who believe.
Another big difference is how communion is celebrated. On every first Sunday at Baptist churches, cubes of bread are passed from pew to pew followed by small cups of grape juice. Communion is a symbolic meal, reminding us of God’s forgivness that spilled out from the cross for everyone, once and for all, a long time ago.
Communion isn’t a memorial meal in the Episcopal Church. Every Sunday morning when God’s presence at the table is invoked and the bread is broken, the distance between heaven and earth vanishes for us. And Jesus is there.
What does that mean? I don’t remember ever hearing or reading a good explanation, probably because it’s an experience more than an idea. Sometimes when I put communion bread in my mouth I feel deeply known. Sometimes the sip of wine is from Jesus’ Kingdom instead of the Napa Valley and it promises me that loved ones I’ve said ‘good bye’ to in this world have tasted eternal life. And once in awhile, lining up to receive communion folds us into each other enough that we can momentarily imagine having empathy for all people.
Similarly, in the Episcopal Church the crucifixion isn’t in the past. We see it in people who have been scapegoated because of their differences, it’s in our failure to act on behalf of the innocent and to forgive the guilty. It’s in the poisoned parts of the earth and in our own sense of helplessness. All of the pain and dispair in the world is embodied for us in the person of Jesus and it is with him that we find the courage to move towards the crucifixion and through it; from death into life.
Lent begins this Wednesday. During the forty days before Easter we won’t try to remember Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem; through prayer, reflection, acts of kindness and sacrifice we’ll follow him there.
Please come on this journey with your church family. On Ash Wednesday receive the imposition of ashes and turn away from everything that distracts you from what matters most. Spend time listening to strangers talk about their own experiences with God at the Thursday Evening Lenten Series, share more, forgive someone, spend time writing a psalm by and at the Sunday Calligraphy Workshop, consider a fast from food, technology or both for parts of your day/week and carve out more time to pray.
Don’t remember Jesus, spend time with him.
Sisters and brothers in the name of the Church, you are invited into a holy Lent.