May 6, 2013

Spilled Chalice

On Sunday, April 28th, at our later service, I held aloft the chalice at the words of institution. In moving the cup back down to the table, I inadvertently caught the edge of the chalice on the altar missal, causing the wine in the cup to precipitously slosh this way, then that, hitting the brim on either side but miraculously not spilling a drop. I thought of the story of the child who, upon seeing consecrated wine spilled on the carpeted sanctuary floor, intoned, "Well, Jesus was smart enough to get in there ..."

Which brings us to yesterday, at our earlier service, when a good deal of consecrated wine offered to me was inadvertently spilled on my hands and over much of the tiled floor under and around the altar. The Eucharistic Minister unintentionally exclaimed, "Jesus!" (which seemed more or less to be the precise point). He then apologized profusely and we dealt expeditiously and reverently with the issue - well, as expeditiously and as reverently as you can in such situations.

A story about Martin Luther at age 58. The year was 1542, the place Wittenberg:
... a woman wanted to go to the Lord’s Supper, and then as she was about to kneel on the bench before the altar and drink, she made a misstep and jostled the chalice of the Lord violently with her mouth, so that some of the Blood of Christ was spilled from it onto her lined jacket and coat and onto the rail of the bench on which she was kneeling. So then when the reverend Doctor Luther, who was standing at a bench opposite, saw this, he quickly ran to the altar (as did also the reverend Doctor Bugenhagen), and together with the curate, with all reverence licked up [the Blood of Christ from the rail] and helped wipe off this spilled Blood of Christ from the woman’s coat, and so on, as well as they could. And Doctor Luther took this catastrophe so seriously that he groaned over it and said, “O, God, help!” and his eyes were full of water. (Johann Hachenburg, quoted in Edward Frederick Peters, The Origin and Meaning of the Axiom: “Nothing Has the Character of a Sacrament Outside of the Use” [Fort Wayne, Indiana: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1993], p. 191)
Alas, I had no such presence of mind. I was all practicality.

The service finished, I shook hands with folks on the way out. My own hands were still a little sticky from the doings.

As I went to put away my vestments (miracuously not a drop of wine on the entire lot [nor for bonus points the fair linen]), it struck me that when I'd just shaken hands with folks, I was putting a little wine on everyone as they left. That is, putting a little wine on the outside of everyone. Smearing the Blood of Christ, if I may be so bold, upon their bodies, rather than neatly aiming for the gut as we have become inured by a few thousand years of liturgical practice.

What happened? Something as common and as holy as human hands were marked with something sacrosanct that in the end just didn't hit its target. The material was supposed to be reverently dealt with as the remainder of a holy meal - consumed, poured into a piscina, given to the ground. Instead it left the church in tiny drabs written onto people's bodies where, perhaps, the idea might infect and perturb them enough to want to go and wash themselves.

We Christians write on each other's bodies. We write BAPTISM with water and HOLY SPIRIT with oil and MORTAL CHILD OF GOD with ash. We write BELOVED DECEASED, COMMENDED TO GOD with the oil of unction. We figuratively write SANCTUARY OF THE MOST HIGH in holy incense.

In practice and practicality, too, we write all over ourselves. We write JESUS LOVES ME in crayon and I LOVE YOU with aprons and sweat gained through acts of hospitality. But as a rule we don't write on each other with wine.

All I'm left with in the wake of it, then, is simply this: What, if anything, was written upon those who left our service with wine staining their fingers? BELOVED? SERVANT? BELIEVER? FELLOW TRAVELER?

No comments: