By Rev. Matthew Kieswetter
Many of us are thankful for all the technologies that have helped keep us united this last year and a half. But as we look ahead to a return to communal, embodied liturgy, we might recognize how our online services don’t fully convey the Christian’s relationship with the wider world and the ‘stuff’ through which we experience God.
Perhaps predictably I will turn to my theological hero, the lay Anglican lawyer, William Stringfellow, who noted that “Christians live in the world and bear and embody the message of reconciliation in the world, not only as the gathered congregation but also in dispersion, scattered in the world, taking part in its ordinary life and work” (Free in Obedience, 123). During the pandemic our Christian faith has certainly continued to inspire us and our actions, but I believe there have been spiritual consequences from not being able to fully gather or disperse.
At the heart of our faith is Jesus’s offering of himself on the Cross, and our experience of that is mediated to us through the bread, wine, and water of our communion meal, and our sharing of it together. And here I’ll turn to Stringfellow again, who held the offertory in high regard. Valuing everyday life, he saw the offertory, in which we bring up the elements of our Communion meal, as incredibly important, because they symbolize our willingness to offer our lives to God (“ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice,” as the BCP puts it).
I recall in theological school, how on a few occasions we emulated some of the early Church’s liturgies. On one particular evening we were each asked to bring a small amount of wine from home, which was then mixed together for the Eucharist. Wine connoisseurs might shudder [and I will reassure our leadership at Church House that I am not saying that our parishes should do this specific thing!], but it did underscore how something of ourselves was being taken up in that offering of bread and wine. There was a participatory aspect to that. And fuller participation is what I am looking forward to in the coming months.
Stringfellow will remind us that in the offertory we’re also taking up our financial contributions toward our church’s ministries, and placing them on the altar. And to him, there was no more powerful symbol of the most ordinary, secular (even profane) ‘stuff’ being put to holy use. Isn’t it interesting, he noted, that slang lingo connects money with bread, or dough?
It is my hope for us that in the post-lockdown world we will have a renewed sense of gathering as the Body of Christ, and then of dispersing into the world. Take a moment to reflect on the meaning of bringing up the elements of bread and wine (when permitted by pandemic protocols), placing your financial offering (or a symbol of your pre-authorized giving) in the basket, or standing alongside others as our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is offered up.
You might feel called to go even further in embodying these values of offering and sacrifice. Maybe you will be inspired to walk, cycle, or take public transit to church on a regular basis, as a way of highlighting your journey to church as a pilgrimage that is markedly different from other errands in which one jumps in the car without a second thought? There is certainly a stewardship aspect to that: uniting the spiritual and the environmental.
Let us pray that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God.
Rev. Matthew Kieswetter is a member of the diocesan Stewardship Committee.