We are home in North Carolina, weary but well. The flights homes from South Africa went well all things considered (a couple of cancelled flights got rescheduled soon enough). Flights from Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg, Johannesburg to Atlanta, Atlanta to Raleigh, a rental car from Raleigh to Seven Lakes, steps to a hot shower and bed.
We awoke to a new reality. I am saddened to have left the beautiful people and beautiful country of South Africa so suddenly. I will miss deeply new friends and colleagues.
I follow the news. South Africa goes into lock-down at midnight tonight. The whole country is ordered to stay at home and borders are closed. I pray for the health and safety of South Africans and the life and ministry of the Anglican church. No gatherings, no worship, no communion services for the near future.
In North Carolina, I am learning, we are facing similar advice. Stay at home except for essential matters, no public gathering, no worship, no communion services for the near future. The local Episcopal church is streaming services.
I will miss holy communion. In South Africa, and in other places on the continent that we traveled, when so much was unfamiliar and sometimes incomprehensible, regular participation in Anglican services of holy communion anchored me in a liturgy that was familiar even when in a language I didn’t understand, in the triune mystery of God’s love which I cannot comprehend, but could experience in Christ’s self-offering for the life and salvation of the world, in a unity with brothers and sisters in Christ that runs deeper than language or custom or ethnicity.
I will miss holy communion here in North Carolina knowing that in the sacrament I remain connected with friends, colleagues, and loved ones in a way that is unique and irreplaceable. Emails and Whats App messages are nice, but I long for the one bread, the one cup. This is a lenten fast that I would never have chosen.
One of the blessings of being in North Carolina is reconnecting with my library. I am reading F. D. Maurice. This morning I read Maurice on the Eucharist, “The Sacrament of His Continual Presence with His Universal Family.”
Maurice extolls the Anglican sacramental view of Christianity. The foundation of the church is not in dogmas or mystical feelings, but in the sacrament which unites us to God and to all people. In the Incarnation Christ united all of humanity to God and all of humanity to one another. The sacrament unites. Dogmas and religious feelings split people apart.
Maurice writes, “This sacramental view of Christianity is in itself more perfect than either the dogmatic or the purely spiritual … Both systems of divinity and Christian life have suffered, when sacraments have not been made the groundwork of them … All attempts to build up a Church upon a foundation, either of dogmas or of feelings, or of both combined, had been confounded by the demonstration of history .. By means of these great and living ordinances of God [i.e. sacraments] the universal Church, built upon the unity of three persons in the godhead, and upon the reconciliation effected for mankind by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, has been upheld, in spite of the ignorance and inconsistencies of its members, from its first establishment on the day of Pentecost unto the present hour.”
Maurice, good Anglican forerunner that he is, holds up the early church fathers’ view of the Eucharist. He explains this view: “The Creator stoops to the creature that he may raise up the creature to fellowship with the Creator. The Holy One enters into the miseries and sorrows incident to the unholy and fallen race which he had formed, that he may lift them to the contemplation and participation of his own essential holiness and purity and glory. They have no doubt that Christ came to establish a kingdom, of which his apostles were founders. They have, further, no doubt that they are admitted by baptism into it and are inheritors of its blessings. They have no doubt that Christ, by taking the body of man, united men to each other; that by offering it to up to God, he united them to God. They have no doubt that he had glorified the body which he took and that this glorified body is the permanent bond between them and the Creator. They have no doubt that God means to feed them as his children. They have no doubt that what they want is to realize the connexion between God and themselves. They have no doubt that when he gives them bread to eat and wine to drink, he satisfies this want. He says of the bread ‘This is my body’: and they receive it as such. He says of the wine ‘This is my blood’: and they receive it as such. The thing itself is a profound wonder to them .. Hence the feeling of its being a Eucharist.”
I will miss holy communion.