The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 6, 2009
Mark 7: 24-37
St. Francis, Norris
I was watching the news the other day and the sister of the woman, whose daughter had been abducted, eighteen years ago, was being interviewed. Now, I don’t know how all of this will unfold in the media as it passes by, but has it struck any of you as strange that we see nothing of what this hostage woman and her two children look like? Maybe I missed it, but the only pictures I have seen are of the young girl at age eleven, when she was abducted. Nothing of what she looks like now, nothing of her two children. It appears as though the media is respecting their privacy, for the moment at least. Good for them.
All too often it seems as though there is a clamor for attention in the national media when things such as this occur. The only person I have seen interviewed from this family, that has endured a living hell for the last eighteen years, is this sister I mentioned. She is the aunt of the abducted girl and great aunt of the two children born of an innocent girl, impregnated by being raped by her captor. A terrible, terrible set of circumstances.
This aunt talked of what was going on in this reunited family. She spoke of the two girls being educated by their mother who was taken at age eleven. They are brilliant according to the aunt as is their mother. They spoke of becoming the family they were meant to be, before this monster disrupted their lives. As the aunt spoke of her niece, she had a smile on her face… the whole interview. She described her niece with two words, “she’s beautiful.” For some reason that struck me with it’s simplicity. “She’s beautiful.”
The aunt continued with stories of becoming a family, playing board games and watching movies. Once again I was struck with the simplicity of one of her statements. She told the interviewer that there were spontaneous moments of joy. Spontaneous moments of joy. For some reason that puts a picture in my head. A picture of two of our children in this church; Charlie and Sophie.
I have noticed for a good while that when Charlie (Leach) comes up for communion and reaches out her hands to take the bread she has a certain look on her face. She’s beautiful. Just recently I have noticed that same angelic beauty in Sophie (Shields). She’s beautiful. All of our children are beautiful though, so why is there any difference in these two little girls? I think it is this: as they hold out their little hands and look up at me, I see a spontaneous moment of joy. I’ll be honest with you, both of them have taken my breath on more than one occasion.
I have struggled in the past with children receiving communion before they understand what it is all about. When I was growing up no one received communion until after they were confirmed. Now we offer the sacrament to anyone who has been baptized. That brings on the subject of infant baptism as opposed to baptism only at an age of understanding. I’ll not go into the theology of scholarly experts on this subject. They are in about as much agreement as the non-scholarly experts. I, myself have flip flopped on this concept. As I watched these two children the other day, I made up my mind that children should be baptized and take communion. Even if and maybe especially because, they do not understand what is going on.
When we are baptized as adults, we claim to understand what is going on through all this dying and being reborn in Christ. We go through the ritual and are then saved. I think it was John Wesley who said his heart was strangely warmed in this process of being saved. I have no doubt that many people are moved by the spirit to become Christians. I have heard too many people speak of the feelings at the instant they were saved to have any doubts.
In our church, we study our catechism before we are confirmed and we profess our beliefs through the Nicene Creed. We understand what it is that we are saying as we profess faith. Or do we?
At ordination to the priesthood there is much talk of going through an ontological change at the precise moment the bishop lays his hands on and asks the spirit to enter in. It is a change in our being. Alas I felt no sudden change. I think my changes have been subtle and slow in their coming.
I am not trying to convince anyone to allow their child to take communion before confirmation. I’m not putting in a plug for infant baptism. What I am trying to express is that the gift of baptism and communion is exactly that…a gift.
Charlie and Sophie have no idea what is taking place as they reach out their little hands to receive the body of Christ, the bread of heaven. Lord knows it certainly isn’t because it tastes so good that they want it, now is it? Maybe it is because the wafer is gluten free. No, it isn’t anything like that.
It is because they are being shared with. It is because they are just like mommy and daddy. It is because they are equal partners in the family of God. Perhaps they feel that presence, not understanding what it is. I could go on with thoughts about why I think they love it. Psychological thoughts.
The truth is that they are not worried at all about the whys. They are experiencing a spontaneous moment of joy. I know that. I can see in their faces and it is a magnificent thing to see. Spontaneous joy at receiving that little white tasteless cookie. Don’t try to tell me that the spirit doesn’t work through the Eucharist. Even if you have no understanding of what the Eucharist is.
You and I should feel such joy at receiving this bread and wine. You and I should just allow ourselves to feel this spontaneous joy. We should come up to the rail and accept this gift of salvation and remembrance without all of the theological baggage attached to it. Just receive this gift from God. This priceless gift. This tasteless cookie and this cheap wine.
We worry that we are not worthy to receive the gifts of God. We are not. But this gift is ours anyway. The woman in the gospel today asked, knowing she was not worthy. She received in spite of unworthiness. The children do not worry about their worthiness. They hold out their hands and ask. Then, they receive with spontaneous joy.
When a baby is baptized…that baby asked for nothing. And yet the love of God is so great that the gift of eternity is given them as they become full members of the Christian Church. The decision to become Episcopalian will be there own.
At the end of the Eucharistic prayers I will lift the bread and wine and say: “The gifts of God for the people of God, take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.” I should also add: “and do so with spontaneous joy.” Like the children we must become as, in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.