To protect the sacred space of our time away, I won't tell you too much about it - but it's important for the sake of this post for me to share the fact that we spent a significant amount of time exploring the theology of the Eucharist that is offered to us in our own Book of Common Prayer. We looked back thousands of years at some of the earliest examples of Eucharistic Prayers and considered together how one might move, what gestures one might use, and why it matters that we understand the intention of the church when we all gather at the Altar. For me, now more than six years into active ordained life, it was refreshing - almost like a retreat. A chance to stop for a while and re-consider the great gift that is the Eucharist and the way it mysteriously binds us together. What's so incredible about this great mystery is that from the very beginning, it's clear that Christians believe that something special is happening at the Eucharist; that Jesus is present with us in our prayers and then ultimately in the bread and wine. This belief, this ritual, is passed down through time, through the muscle memory of the Body of Christ, from one congregation to another, one generation to the next.
As I prepared for the sermon this morning, looking at Mark's Gospel (which you can read here), and to a certain extent the Epistle for the day as well, I was reminded of the urgency of God's mission. In the Gospel, we have an example of something Jesus does from time to time - he shows up in a place, does the work he's there to do, and then rather suddenly disappears - moving on to the next place, the next need, the next person who needs to hear the good news. This is a pretty common move for Jesus. He's constantly scanning the horizon for the next thing - in fact, Mark quotes him today as saying, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” That is what I came out to do.
If we, as Episcopalians, believe in a priesthood of all believers - and that all of us are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, part of God's mission to reconcile and restore creation, then all of us have this same call on our lives - this same urgency. It's not about rushing - but it's also not about lingering too long. When the story has been told, the good news shared, the work finished, the needs met - then it's time to go on to the next place. Time for us to be looking for the next opportunity to tell the story, do the work, love and serve the next person who needs to know Jesus. It means that our work - our call in faith, is constantly changing. In part, that's because the world is constantly changing; and yet it's also because needs change, people are different, and so the way that we share the good news will change as well depending on where we are, who is around us, and what tools we have at hand. Jesus does a number of different things as he travels. From time to time he tells people the good news, teaches, shares stories - at other times he casts out demons, heals the sick, questions corrupt authority, prays, preaches, and performs miracles - which include feeding people and turning water into wine (just to name a few!). Jesus' own ministry requires a lot of flexibility - a lot of gifts - a lot of willingness to change and adapt to the situation in which he finds himself.
You may not think these two ideas go together - the consistency of the Eucharist (of Jesus' presence with and in the Church) - and the urgent and emergent change we experience and are called to - and yet, these two ideas are deeply linked. In some ways, they must be linked for the church to survive. As we change (we the church, not just the Episcopal Church, but many Christians), our work will change as well. We will continue to be called to meet new needs, to be flexible in new ways, to share the good news with new words and with new technologies. And while we're called to urgently go and do the work, to love and serve and change the world, we'll need still to return to that which doesn't change - to Jesus' presence in and amongst us - to the way we experience Jesus in the Eucharist and in the sacraments. It is this presence that grounds us, these rituals that remind us who we are, these sacraments - moments outside of time and space - when God calls us beloved - that we remember whose we are. And the truth is, we must have both. We must experience the urgent nature of being sent and know that we can only serve well if we have first been fed by Word & Sacrament - because our identity as God's beloved never changes, never moves, never leaves us.
We must be urgent - and ready - and flexible - ready to go and share the good news. We must be people of hope who are constantly looking for the next way to tell the story of Jesus and the next person we can serve in his name. And we must remember that our identity, our strength, our nourishment comes from this great river of faithfulness that stands outside of time and space connecting us to the saints that came before - and the saints who will come after us. We must have both the urgent change and the stable faith.
In these last few weeks of "Ordinary Time", I pray that you will hear God calling to you - pressing on you - urgently - to do the work to which you have been called. The work that is yours to do. And that as you seek to do that work, you will draw on the peace and strength that comes from the presence of God in our worship, in the gathered Body of Christ, and the unchanging witness of the Church throughout time and space. God bless you.