The first time I took communion in the Episcopal church I was as filled as if I had eaten “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.” (Those are the words of Isaiah describing the messianic feast at the end of time, and we often read the words at funerals.) No wonder I was filled for we are acting out the feast every time we have holy communion. And yes, sometimes when I am part of the communion of us Saints, I experience that fullness again, so that tears still well up in my eyes. I sense the space around us and among us and in us is filled with grace and abundance.
So what is this box? Sometimes when somebody can’t get to the feast, the feast goes to them. And believe it or not, in that box is enough for a feast for the bringer and the receiver.
Here’s how this sending out of the feast happens. Right before the closing Eucharistic prayer, the celebrant stands behind the altar and hands a small box to someone. The celebrant and the congregation say this back and forth:
“As Marion and I approach twenty years at All Saints, I have been honored and blessed for most of that period to represent our congregation and church through service as a Eucharistic Visitor (EV) taking Communion to the homebound of our parish. I usually serve as EV every six weeks or so, visiting someone recommended by the clergy or the next individual “up” on our list of regulars. Occasionally we are asked to remain as regular EVs for an individual, particularly when that individual is in hospice and/or is easily confused.
I became very close to long term parishioners Bob and Coc Henson in 2007 when Coc’s health was failing, visiting every Wednesday afternoon. When Coc died in 2010, Bob and I decided to continue the visits and did so until Bob’s death last year at the age of 101. Coc and Bob were wonderful, Christ-filled people and I frequently and truthfully reassured Bob that I was getting more out ot the relationship than he was. I also told him that he, having graduated from college the year I was born, kept me feeling young!! PS – We EVs are Blessed to have Ann Higdon’s gentle and caring hand as our leader.”
Here’s a memory from Mary Jo Bryan, and Ann Higdon is in the middle of it!
Mary Jo writes, “I had visited Jim before and was surprised when I arrived at the nursing home to find that he was in hospice care after a sudden change in condition. He was awake, but not really responsive. A longtime friend (the Jewish social worker Nancy) was with him and encouraged me to offer communion. I used the form for special circumstances, and it was clear that he was aware of my presence and the prayers. He wasn’t able to receive the host, but received the wine on my fingertip. His friend, who is Jewish, told me that Amazing Grace was one of Jim’s favorites, so she and I sang it for him. She had learned it through her long friendship with Jim. Holy, holy, holy time!”
Below, Gretchen Chateau describes an experience that transcended denominations and also gave a way for people to connect deeply just when the threat of loss of connection between the living and the dead was emerging. Here’s Gretchen:
“A few years ago, my sister Judi’s best friend in the whole world was really close to the finish line in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Judi had flown from Spokane, Washington for what was to be her last visit with her friend Shawn. I drove to Flowery Branch to support Judi in that visit. I had been Eucharistic Visitor the previous week and still had the communion kit in my car. Here we were, an Episcopal EV, my sister a Roman Catholic and Shawn, a Lutheran plus another Lutheran friend. We were in Shawn’s hospital room, talking and I said, ‘You know, I have a communion kit in my car. What if we had a shared Eucharist?’
I was a little afraid of violating some rule or regulation. But, everyone agreed, so I got the kit from the car, we shared an abbreviated Rite II service and reserved communion. Judi went back to Spokane, I went back to Atlanta, and Shawn died a few days later. To think, I almost didn’t suggest having communion. There have been other amazing experiences, but that’s probably #1.”
Gary Russell and Jim Clay have had such deep and holy experiences as EVs. Here’s Gary:
“In November I had a lovely visit with Liz Jacobs’ parents, Mary and Joseph Gordon, who are somewhat homebound. Mary was an EV in Florida prior to their move to Atlanta and proudly showed me her communion kit. They were both so thankful and grateful for the visit and the communion service. I enjoyed telling people during the Advent season that I had just recently taken communion to Mary and Joseph!”
And Gary’s husband, Jim remembers, “Years ago Gary and I had taken communion to a federal official who had been the victim of a violent home invasion. It was Easter Sunday, so we also came bearing an Easter lily. They were so moved by the sharing of this Holy Meal that tears flowed from all three of us. To this day, the individual continues to remind us how grateful they were for the EV Ministry in their time of need.”
Ann Higdon leads the EV flock. Let her or one of the priests know if you sense a call to join them or if you know of someone who needs -not God in a box- but the Body of Christ to come near and share the feast.
Ann says, “Being a Eucharistic Visitor over the years has blessed me with opportunity to know many special people. Whether gathering around hospital beds or dining room tables or in living rooms or nursing homes, time spent visiting with people before sharing communion is also exceedingly special. One of my greatest joys is greeting people in church when their health allows them to attend worship services again. It is also a privilege to serve as Eucharistic Minister at the funerals of some of the people I have visited.
Forming connections with families of people I visit is also a blessing. I am taking communion monthly to the daughter of a parishioner I often visited with communion many years ago. The daughter has invited her friends to join us, forming our own “4th Friday Communion” community.”
It’s not that the feast always has to be liturgical. A couple of days ago, I just whispered at the lunch table in the library how much I wished I had cake. And since Noelle York Simmons often wished the same thing, somebody called her and said we were thinking about her and cake.
And the next day what shows up but A HUGE CARAMEL CAKE FROM NOELLE!! FEAST, FEAST, FEAST.
We were not created for scarcity. We are created for abundance. In this time with many loud voices saying there is not enough, remember your faith, your feast, your God of Abundance who invited all to be fed.
Here is Mary Oliver with just about the best communion poem I know. I offer it in thanksgiving for our EVs and with prayers for those whom they serve.
Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into the many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it was all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.
Come risen Lord and deign to be our guest. Nay let us be thy guest; the feast is thine.