This past month I spent two weeks at St. Gregory’s Abbey, a Benedictine Episcopal monastery in southern Michigan, and my life was all about proper responses. In worship, at mealtime, in all aspects of monastic life, there are things you do and say in response. If someone says, “O Lord, make speed to save us,” you say, “O God, make haste to help us.” If we invoke the Holy Trinity, you bow. And not just a little, at almost a 90º angle. As Prior Aelred described it, “you should bow so that you can touch your knees with your opposite hands.” So, left knee with your right hand and vice versa. Try it. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Yeah, we were doing that probably 50 times a day easy.
We celebrated Holy Communion daily (see Sidebar on Weekly Communion) which was chock full of proper responses. It was wonderful to celebrate it daily and it became the focus of each day.
At the end of the Great Thanksgiving (the communion prayer) the celebrant would hold up the bread and cup and say, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” and I wanted there to be a verbal response to this. I wanted to say something like “Thanks be to God,” or “Alleluia,” or something. What I learned was the proper response to this was silence. Sometimes there is nothing you can say. Sometimes there is nothing you should say. Sometimes, confronted with the love of God, the best response is just to keep your mouth shut.
I pondered this in relation to my ministry. I learned early on that the best tool of a good pastor is silence. Listening is more important than filling the silence to say something. Being there is more important than having something to say. And, as in Holy Communion, what we often need to be doing is preparing ourselves to receive God’s mercy and love, than to put more of ourselves into the world.
In a world that is hurting, the church’s proper response is to heal, and we start to do that by standing in the presence of God and shutting the hell up, listening, waiting, receiving, rejoicing.
Sidebar on Weekly Communion
Some people say that celebrating communion regularly makes it less special, but I disagree. I don’t tell my kids “I love you” just once a month because doing it more often would make it “less special.” Frequent communion reminds us of Christ’s love for us and the need we all have to respond to that love in big and small ways.
The early church celebrated communion weekly and I don’t see why we shouldn’t, other than we haven’t done it that way for a short while. The lack of weekly communion in the Presbyterian Church is really just a throw back to days when those ordained to preside at table were scarce and the preacher might only get around once a month or so to celebrate The Lord’s Supper. John Calvin favored weekly communion and that was the norm of the church for hundreds of years. It’s only in the last couple hundred years we’ve gotten away from it. I think it’s time to return to the norm.