Today's post comes from Baptist theologian Barry Harvey and his book Can These Bones Live?
Some fellow graduate students and I were celebrating the Eucharist on a Tuesday morning with brothers of the Order of St. John the Evangelist, an Anglican religious order in Durham, North Carolina. I had been attending services at St. John's House several mornings a week for a few month on the recommendation of those whose insight in matters spiritual and theological I had come to trust. But prior to that morning my experience there had been everything that I had been led to expect. Most Baptists observe the Lord's Supper once every three months or so, for we have been taught that if we observe it too often it will not be as "meaningful." (We never restrict the frequency of hymns, prayers, Bible readings, or sermons for that reason.) And of course, from this standpoint what makes something meaningful is that it produces an emotional response "inside" the individual.
It did not take long for me to discover that one could sustain the kind of emotional intensity I had come to associate with communion only for so long. The novelty of participating in the elegant and elaborate liturgy gradually subsided. I soon knew when to stand and when to sit, what to say and what to do, when to sing and when to remain silent, because we celebrated the sacrament basically the same way every day. And sure enough, my initial impression of what had transpired at Eucharist that morning at St. John's House could have become the first entry in the dictionary under the word perfunctory. If the day had stopped there, the events of that morning would have confirmed everything that my Puritan heritage had warned me about such "popery."
The day did not end there, of course, and so I went about my business, all of which was routine. I did not think much more about what had happened that morning until late that afternoon, when I realised that what had transpired as a result of my participation in the eucharist liturgy all those weeks had remained with me all day. The routine transactions of that day had been caught up in the mystery at the Lord's table in a way that I had not experienced before,though at the time I was quite unaware of this process. I had discovered something of what Alexander Schmemann calls the "breakthrough" of Christ, the Eucharist and Eucharist the Christ "that brings us to the table in the Kingdom, raises us to heaven, and makes us partakers of the divine food." The everyday exchanges of that Tuesday, in their details quite unremarkable, I now could follow as potent signs of God's beauty and power, rendered intelligible by the social idiom embodied in the eucharistic celebration. My apprenticeship in this idiom, culminating in what the Orthodox tradition calls the "liturgy after the liturgy," had finally borne a small bit of fruit.
Barry Harvey, Can These Bones Live? A Catholic Baptist Engagement with Ecclesiology, Hermeneutics, and Social Theory (Brazos, 2008), pp.200-201.