I have a clergy friend who served with me in Montana. While I was at two congregations in the southwest corner of the state, he had three congregations a little north and west of where I was. He liked good steaks and good cigars, and he has since been called to serve a congregation in Oklahoma.
He posted a rather lengthy quote on his Facebook page from J.R.R. Tolkien the other day. You probably know him as the author of “The Hobbit” and the “Lord of the Rings.” But he was also quite the theologian, a member of the Anglican church, and good friends with C.S. Lewis.
I won't copy the whole thing here (because it's long), but I want to put up the part that caught my attention. When discussing the Eucharist, Tolkien said:
Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children—from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn—open-necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand—after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.
I think this caught my attention for two reasons. First, these past two Sundays, for me personally, have been Sundays of extraordinary joy. We baptized three young people into the household of God and we had a service the following week where nothing particularly special happened other than it was a day on which people seemed to be genuinely happy to be here. These past two Sundays have confirmed for me in their own very different ways that St. John's is a special place and I am blessed to be part of it.
And Second, we are approaching our Annual Meeting, which will be held after the 10:15 service this Sunday. Part of that meeting will be to look at where this church has been in the past year, and part of it will be to look at where we might be going in the upcoming year. As we move forward I hope you all see the value of being present in the life of this parish. I hope that you come to see St. John's not as a weekly obligation to be fulfilled, or as a place to come every so often when it fits into your schedule, but I hope you see it as a place of regular nourishment.
And when you come for nourishment, know that you are coming to a place with a sometimes proud, vulgar, and self-important priest. Know that you are coming to a place where things aren't always as well-placed and people aren't always as well-behaved as we think they should be. Know that you are coming to be among the 5000, the rabble, to be fed and nourished by this foretaste of the heavenly banquet.
The more you participate in this holy mystery, the more you participate in this feast, the more you participate in the celebration and wonder, the more you participate in the Eucharist, the more you will learn to see the face of Christ in others; and maybe, just maybe, the more you will see Christ present in your own life.
This is the Eucharist. May you come often enough to be nourished regularly.