I woke up this morning with my heart racing. I clutched my pillow (which sports faded images of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, C3PO, R2D2, and Darth Vader), took several ragged breaths, and waited for my heart to slow down. I had been sleeping. I wasn’t active at all. I don’t remember dreaming. I don’t have a heart condition. So why was my heart racing?
I had words going through my mind as I awoke: “On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said: ‘Take, eat: this is my Body which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’ ”
These aren’t just any words. In the Episcopal Church, these are some of the “words of institution,” which are part of the Eucharistic prayer. This is the prayer we pray to remember our place in God’s story of salvation and grace, to fulfill Jesus’ wish at the Last Supper, and to ask Christ to indwell the bread and wine with his presence so that they become to us his Body and Blood. “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving”; therefore, when we participate in the Eucharistic prayer, we corporately thank God for all the gifts God has given us, most especially the gift of Jesus Christ our Lord. It’s no coincidence that the word “corporate” comes from the Latin word for “body.” We come together as the body of Christ to share the Body and Blood of Christ (Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians). This sharing of Christ opens our eyes and hearts to the presence of Christ already around and within us. We are nourished to renew our commitment to our Lord, to proclaim the love of God, and to do the work God has given us to do.
In the final chapter of the Gospel According to Luke, Cleopas and his companion meet a wayfarer on the road. They are leaving Jerusalem, defeated and despairing. But the wayfarer sees their predicament from another perspective. They have the story all wrong, he says. And he reframes the story they know into a new story in which violence doesn’t overcome peace, hate can’t snuff out love, and life kicks death in the teeth. They reach their destination and ask the wayfarer to eat with them. When he breaks the bread, they realize Jesus has been with them all this time. They remember feeling like their hearts were on fire when he was speaking to them on the road. And they race back to Jerusalem to proclaim that they have seen the Lord!
Maybe that’s what happened to me this morning when I awoke with Jesus’ words in my head. My racing heart was burning within me as I thought about what I will do for the first time this Sunday. I am being ordained to the priesthood tomorrow, and I am overjoyed to be celebrating the Eucharist for the first time this weekend. If idly thinking the words of institution gets my heart racing, how will I feel in two days time? Nervous, I have no doubt (in all the gesturing, I’m convinced I’m going to knock over a chalice). Nervous, yes, but my joy is overriding my nerves. This joy springs from deep within me, from the place where Christ dwells, speaking words of love and grace into the very core of my being. Now I have the opportunity to preside at a celebration of this joy with other people. This fills me with awe–awe that God would use me to make known God’s love in the world, would ask me to serve God’s people as a priest.
One of the Eucharistic prayers prays these words: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.”
Lord Jesus, please dwell in us so we can share your love in the world. Let us dwell in your presence, which infuses life with your nourishing grace and sets our racing hearts on fire.