Holy Thursday April 9, 2020
Rev. John Steitz
My family’s faith tradition is in the Episcopal Church which celebrates the Eucharist every Sunday.
Eucharist is Greek for Thanksgiving. It is an act of thanksgiving to God.
After becoming a member of the Religious Society of Friends I felt led to attend theological school. I went to Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary on the campus of Earlham College in Indiana. There was a student group at the college, the Ecumenical Communion Group, that I began attending soon after starting seminary.
Like the Episcopal Church the Ecumenical Communion Group celebrated the Eucharist every week. Usually midweek in the evening. There was however one key difference. Whereas the Episcopal Church always had a priest presiding, the Ecumenical Communion Group had no ordained clergy present.
We used a variety of communion liturgies, but usually closed with “ i thank You God for most this amazing day,” a poem by e.e. cummings
i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and love and wings: and the gay great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Although we did not have anyone who was ordained at the time, we did have a community where people loved one another.
A community that practiced giving thanksgiving to God. A community that enacted Eucharist.
Taking part in the Eucharist each week with others in this small group deepened my faith as a disciple of Jesus and strengthened my ability to practice this faith.
I have witnessed how participating in the Eucharist can be a profoundly evangelistic process, bringing a person into faith in Jesus Christ.
During the Last Supper Jesus called the disciples to love one another. That it is through this love for one another that others will know that we are Jesus’ disciples.
And yet Christians have killed other Christians over disagreements on the meaning of the Eucharist.
A ritual that has the Love Commandment, the new commandment to love one another, at its foundational heart, has been used as an excuse to kill others.
I’m not going to replay the theological disagreements. In a very real way the theological disputes are beside the point.
Let me be clear here. Much of this has nothing to do with giving thanksgiving to God – Eucharist. And it certainly has nothing to do with practicing our faith as disciples of Jesus by loving one another.
It does have much to do with maintaining power, control, and privilege. Rather than expressing deep gratitude to God it offers domination.
The Quakers believe that all existence is a sacrament, that all life is sacred. Because all existence is a sacrament there is no need for specific sacramental rituals.
Quakers believe that all existence is a sacrament, that there is that of God in everyone, and that we have within us an Inner Light of Christ. These beliefs lead to a peaceful, nonviolent life.
I continue to share these beliefs but I came to understand the value of celebrating the Eucharist. That this celebration can be an anchor for our faith.
It is not that only the Eucharist and Baptism are sacraments, but rather that we lift up these as sacraments to anchor or ground our faith.
Celebrating Eucharist – thanksgiving to God helps us anchor our faith.
Holy Week this year is a very difficult time. We need anchors.
I do not need to repeat the horrific news about the crisis we are facing. We are all too aware and we are filled with grief.
We need to celebrate, to offer thanksgiving to God, to anchor our faith on God’s Love. We need to celebrate Eucharist.
So this Holy Thursday we break bread and pour wine together across the internet. We join together with the poet: i thank You God for most this amazing day!