“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” – Luke 22:19 ESV
The words above are familiar to all of us. They are a portion of the Holy Scriptures that we have come to love as a part of the words of institution – the climax of Christian liturgy where the elements of the Eucharist are transformed into the medicine of immortality. I’ve been reflecting on these words lately. The same term is used for the Eucharist as is for the Church: Body of Christ. Could it be that our Blessed Lord uses the same means to transform both?
This pandemic has been a mystery to us. Most of us, it would seem, are barely hanging on – we don’t know how much more we can take. I know that I, personally, am feeling lost and isolated. When this all started, I was a pastor at a nondenominational church. Then I followed the deepest stirrings of the Holy Spirit within to seek out my true spiritual home. I ended up in the process of entering the Orthodox Church . . . then the Spirit stirred again. Now, I’m attending an Eastern Catholic Church. It’s been strange, confusing, painful and, well, very real. It’s been a pilgrimage, a sojourn into my own heart to get to know God again and to get to know myself.
“The discovery of the heart is the beginning of man’s salvation” – Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex
How true this is. Yet, isn’t the entirety of the spiritual life a discovery of the heart? If both of those statements are true, then it follows that we are always only at the beginning of our salvation; and, we know that the beginning stages of anything are wrought with growing pains and difficulties. Ask a novice guitarist and she will tell you how sore her fingers are, or ask a new long-distance runner and he will tell you of the fatigue, the inflamed, aching joints.
“When [he] has endured patiently all the preliminary trials of the spiritual life, then sooner or later God will visit him” – Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex
God will visit us. God has visited us. God is visiting us. Even in the pain of this pandemic pilgrimage, this forced exile into the desert of our own homes, God is with us. I can’t begin to explain much more than that. I only know that as time progresses in this inverted world, I know less and less. This is a good thing. It forces me to be a pilgrim, to listen for the still, small voice calling out directions in my wandering. Every time I think I’ve grasped a new reality, it eludes me. It is painful, but good.
“One who has not experienced such a painful change has not yet begun to live through repentance” – St. Theophan the Recluse
So, what is the point? The point is the Eucharist! Maybe Christ our God wants to do with us what He did with the bread. He wants to take us into His hands, He wants to bless us, He wants to break us, and He wants to use us to feed the world and call to remembrance Himself. The only way to let Him do that is to travel with Him. We must enter this desert as He entered the desert after His baptism. We must be tempted. We must respond to those temptations properly. We have to follow Christ and see Him heal and teach and preach. We must question everything like the disciples. We have to take risks and try to step out on the water as St. Peter did. We have to sink like St. Peter did. We have to make our way to the Upper Room, and make our way to the Cross too. Only when we are broken in the lonely desperation of whatever Cross it is we are called to carry can we be resurrected in Paschal joy. This is how you and I will be used to feed those still making their way to their appointed Cross.
I am yet to see the clear ending of my own current journey. Where I will end up — well, that is up to God and I welcome the challenge of learning surrender and repentance along the way. There is no return to “normal”, whatever that means. There is, truly, only Christ. Let us embrace our eternal novitiate in the spiritual life so that we may learn the basics of prayer and trust. Only then will we receive our visitation and collaborate with our Creator who will make us into the bread that will feed the masses.
Lord have mercy.