We’re having another storm again, rain coming down incessantly. The street has become a running stream. Water came in at church, but not as much as last week, and the sump pump and hard work of volunteers. Our floods are minor compared to others in Massachusetts, and compared to those in the north Midwest. Last winter and this winter, I’ve learned about the Red River which runs through Fargo in North Dakota. And I think of our people, out there, sandbagging and preparing for the river’s rise.
Water connects everyone. Baptismal waters connect all Christians. We’ve all been bathed in the life-changing pool. When I teach baptism to young families who come with their child, I often feel an inner hesitation about talking of baptism as a kind of death, that it is a passage through death to life. With an adult, it’s easier, for there are things in us we’d be glad to see die, all kinds of inner and outer resistance to God and to loving the neighbor. Unless we are Jesus, we’ve sinned at least once, and are glad for the daily gracious bath of baptism and the assurance of mercy.
Sacraments speak of our unity in Christ. On Wednesday night, in our bible study/worship gathering, we’ll turn to the sacrament of the Lord’ s Supper. During the year of 1528, he preached extensively on the content of the catechisms, and those sermons were crucial in composing the Small and Large Catechisms.
Preparing for the Lord’s Supper in our church includes the whole community; we prepare interiorly through prayer and confession, as well as corporate confession on Sunday morning. But during the week, other kinds of material preparation happen. This occurs in every church, of course, often through the ministry of the Altar Guild. But sometimes as a way of supporting the community, it helps to remember and pray for each person involved and each facet of preparation.
Each week, one or more members attend to the flowers for the altar, which are given in memory or in honor of others. During Lent, we use bare curling willow twigs, but many of us are already signing up to bring flowers for Easter. One of our members ensures that wine is purchased and delivered to the church. Others wash and iron the altar linens. Our parish administrator and her husband prepare the candles, and when they replace them, take the time to make sure they are burning evenly.
The bread is made each week by one of our members who prefers to do it behind the scenes. She approached me last year, and offered to do it. She has a wonderful recipe, and the bread is brown and sweet. Gordon Lathrop, a truly great Lutheran liturgist taught his students that we should really taste the bread, that it should have some substance when we chew it, that we should experience the act of eating when receiving the sacrament. “This bread is for you!” One of our children recently confided to his mother, “that bread is gooooood!” Yes, indeed, it is good. That bread is Life.
Altar Guild members prepare the bread and wine for the Table, each Sunday, their work also taking place out of sight, now in the new sacristy. And by the time the service starts on Sunday morning, the gifts are ready to be brought forward, but the holy work of unseen hands in the quiet ministries of preparation has been going on all week. If you asked any of those folks about what they do, they would shy away from speaking of it. If you are reading this, please offer a prayer of thankgiving for those who so invisibly do so much to prepare the way for the Lord’s Supper in your community. It has been prepared for with great love and devotion.
“Lord, who the night you were betrayed did pray,
that all your church might be forever one:
Help us at every Eucharist to say
with willing heart and soul, ‘Your will be done.’
That we may all one bread, one body be,
Through this great sacrament of unity.” Amen.
William H. Thurton