‘Our communion in coming together in worship is held by us all.’
A Quaker friend and I were talking recently when he reminded me that our communion in coming together in Quaker Meeting for Worship is held by us all, in stillness and silence as we sit around. I had spoken to him about a visit I had made over Easter to a local Catholic church, and he had talked about Catholic communion being something that the congregation face towards, carried out through the priest, while ours is held corporately where we look for the centre. In Meeting I ministered on this theme, recalling this reminder, because it is something I often forget. Our communion is held by us in Meeting as individuals, for each other, for our family and friends, and for our wider communities wherever we might then find ourselves.
But sitting after ministering, I remembered the BBC’s Pilgrimage programme, when several celebrities walked St Columba’s Way through Ireland and Scotland. In one episode an actress from the Jewish faith made a Friday night Shabbat meal, and stood at the table reciting the prayer. She took a loaf, broke it, and passed pieces around. This simple act of communion, of coming together with a sustaining meal, seemed to bring the group closer together. It meant something to each of them, whatever their faith or non-belief.
I remembered seeing a gesture like this in that Catholic church over Easter. With or without actual bread, communion is sustaining; it means something on a deep level and perhaps is even life-giving nourishment. You mean something to me, I mean something to you, and we commune with each other – those who are known to us and those who aren’t. The term used in the Catholic church for the bread/wafer is ‘the body of Christ’ and I wondered what it would be like if I could hold myself as ‘the body of Christ’, and if those Quakers sat in worship with me could commune together as ‘bodies of Christ’?
Let me say now, before anyone sharpens their pencils to write in, that I do know that not all Quakers believe in Christ in that way. I am writing about meaning, not necessarily about what we might or might not believe. How might I be sustaining, nourishing and consoling towards myself, my fellow Quakers and others in my life? Perhaps for a moment it is in the way I am present in Meeting: listening attentively to that communion, and to my fellow Quakers. It might be a valuable exercise, should you wish to try it. In every encounter try saying to yourself ‘you are the body of Christ for me and I am the body of Christ for you’. See what happens, and how you feel. Sustained, nourished, consoled?
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