the wondrous offering, a letter to preston

Dear Preston,

I know, we sort of stopped doing these letters for a season, and I know that we’ll talk about this, on Skype or when you are here, in my kitchen, in not so many days, but we made these letters to write our way towards the true and the beautiful. And when I saw something in church today, I wanted to tell you. I wanted to write it here, first, in this our place of beginning.

Behind our altar there is an icon of the crucified Christ. I see it every week, I’m almost blind to his face, until that moment I get on my knees and I’m asking for the Body, and for the Blood, asking Christ to enter me, asking Him to be with me in the deepest mystery. Then, I look at that icon and it is like the Orthodox say – it is a window. I feel the air move differently, a wind coming from the icon, from the altar, from the outstretched arms of that crucified Savior. I feel the air touch me as the priest’s robes swing by, the steady gesture of offering.

Today I saw something else, too. This is what I have to tell you, the moment that stopped me.

Today, I watched as the priest made the gesture of offering during the Memorial Acclamation – the final doxology where we pray, my eyes leaking a few stray tears at the steadfastness of this faith in the face of my own wavering heart, this Church who breaks and breaks and by breaking keeps us whole…

 “By him, and
with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor
and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever.”

And the priest lifts the bread and wine above, and in this gesture upwards, I realized: the outstretched arms of the crucified Christ icon are still visible. 

You can see Him pinned to the cross behind the priest praying that this mystery would take place in the unity of His spirit. You can see, not his face, but his arms, stretched in offering, in love. I have never known if I can possibly understand the Cross – and the questions swirl and dip in my stomach some days – is this penal substitutionary atonement or the Moltmann suffering Christ or the cosmic redemption – (and you know how much I trip over theology)

but Preston? The outstretched arms are visible behind our offering. 

What does that tell us? What does it promise? I don’t know. But I know my heart has been stopped, that I can go no further, and though the words are tentative and tremulous I know I have seen something wondrous this morning and I wanted to tell you, I had to tell you.

Is it that Christ, to whom we offer, is visible because we are offering what already is His? We are making our offering in response to the offering already made, our sacrifice a poor remembering and reechoing through the world that we know who has stretched His arms out, once for all, and every moment? Can we see and hear the air change and move as we gesture upwards, and just behind the gesture, is the Person to whom we make the offering, who was Himself first offered?

Do you remember the scene in Gilead, the one with the baby and the girl, the leaf and the river? When they go back to the car, it says, “Glory said, ‘I do not understand one thing in this world. Not one.'” That is how it feels now. I have seen something wondrous like the child and her mother kneeling in the cool clear of a stream and learning the world by sight and touch, and I do not understand one thing about it.

Christ’s arms behind our offering. Christ to whom we make the offering. Christ, invisible yet poured out in the mystery of remembering Him. Today I realized that I have sold the idea of this Eucharist is memorial so desperately short. I have thought that was not the fullest way to imagine it, not when there are mysteries of presence and participation.

But we must not make light of the remembering. Christ commanded a memorial. In remembrance of Him – almost as if He commanded that we see His arms behind each gesture of offering. That when we get on our knees to receive, we come into the memory of Jesus outstretched, offering Himself for us.

I do not understand one thing about this world. I do not understand one thing, but I wonder at each thing, holding onto it like the child with the leaf. And perhaps it is enough to know that the offering is wondrous, and beautiful, and fearsome to behold.

Love, from my heart which is wondering,
hilary

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