He taught me many things…

Merin Mathew, doing my Master of Social Work, 2nd year in the field of medical and psychiatry. My fieldwork is in Chaitanya Mental Health Centre, a rehabilitation center for the mentally ill patients. I was trying to learn and get acquainted with the work. i really did not know what is was doing n at the verge of disillusionment

I used to attend the Psychiatrist’s consultation, observe counselling and participate in the morning session of patients. Attending the morning session my attention was drawn towards a man who said the morning prayers with a lot of passion and involvement. He was a very pleasant looking man. His hair was jumbled, he had heavy stubble on his face, and it was accompanied by a wide smile. A short man, who could be called fat and had a slight hunch back. After the morning session he came to me and told me his name. I could very evidently say he was the first person who made me feel welcome at the agency.

After the first meeting we kept exchanging pleasantries. Those were the days when I was growing an ugly looking beard. He came and asked “Sir, why don’t you shave?” I used to smile and pass. His smile was something I got used to and I mechanically kept smiling at him. One day when I had finished my tea, this middle-aged man stopped me and asked me” Sir, do you know my name?” I was caught unaware. I wish I could tell him I don’t know. I remember him telling me, but I was not sure. I was feeling very sorry and with a lot of reluctance and a low voice that was hardly audible, I asked ”Are you Vivek?” After saying I imagined him saying on now, you don’t know me. I thought you would remember I smiled everyday thinking you know my name. But you don’t. All this I viewed in a split second of his reaction. He said ”You are absolutely right”. His smile became more radiant. And was that smile rewarding for me? Oh! Of the highest order. There are times when we surprise ourselves and this time I surprised myself. I gifted a smile to a person. Let me ask nothing more.

After this day I made a special effort to say hi to him. Asking his well-being.

On another field workday I went and attended the morning meeting. The prayer today lacked the passion and had a certain detachment. The person saying the prayer was same, the prayer was same, but the state of mind was different. The radiant smile was replaced by an unpleasant frown. The man who was most participatory in the session was most pre-occupied with his own thoughts. The Counsellor conducting the session also noticed the evident change. The Counsellor asked him what was bothering him, Vivek did not respond. Then he abruptly said ‘I do not believe in God’. The Counselor’s effort to motivate him was a failure. This deeply disturbed me and I decided to intervene. I called Mr. Vivek for counselling. The session started with a lot of reluctance and silence. Then I broke the silence asking ”Vivekji, how are you feeling?” He answered with a frown ”What is wrong with me, I am fine”. His defenses were in place and his message was clear, don’t intrude into my life. After a little silence he told me ‘I have lost my appetite for life’. After sometime he said ‘I want to die’.

The man who was so positive, so pleasant, was such a man of smiles, is suicidal. What went wrong? ”My life is meaningless. Nobody cares for me” . He had flight of ideas. He told me ”Sir you have double standards” . I was shocked when he said that, my natural reaction was ‘why?’ pleasant. ”Sir, you only say we should be clean, should be But look at yourself. You don’t shave, you look so unpleasant , if this is not double standards then what is it ?” I couldn’t help laughing but at the same time I was humbled. He taught me the importance of congruence in speech and action. Did I learn? I am doubtful. On this light note, we continued. He said that ” All my education has gone waste”. He had some traumatic memories of E.C.T. He spoke of his hatred for food. He had a lot of negativity in him that he could not channelise. So he kept silent looking at the ceiling as if looking for answer from the ceiling. Then I said ‘Vivekji, I understand”. He very skeptically answered ‘What you understand?”. This taught me how lightly we use words. Did I understand his emotions, his helplessness, his feelings, his fear? Hardly. Then I told him ”May be I don’t understand Vivekji, but you understand. I think you like to write, why, don’t you write your feelings?” He said ”You cant make it compulsory? ”I wont do anything that is compulsory”. I assured him that it is not compulsory. He said ”I will try, but I can’t promise”. The counseling ended. The outcome was uncertain. Did what I say make an effect? Did I make a difference? Time will tell. I tried. My intentions were earnest.

After this I spoke to his counsellor who briefed me about his illness. Vivek is a schizophrenic for last 20 years and his chance of recovery was very poor. The counsellor told me that he was very close to his mother and his mother is dead and Vivek does not know. This disturbed me even more. Knowing this, I went and spoke to him. but i could not tell him about his mother. Seeing me he said “I am very sad, n i dont want to live. Sir, but whatever you said, I will try”. I will try. Am I ready to try? I just spoke to him about his interests and he spoke in length about literature. He really looked different and spoke as an authority. I was so happy seeing his revived spirits. Sometimes we don’t need to try too much. Just listen. Thats all we got to do.

Next field work when I met him He smiled at me but it was not the same smile that I was used to. He came to me and said ”Good morning Sir, I am trying”. That’s all he said and went.

After sometime he spoke to me about Marathi literature, its high points, the importance of mother tongue and how its losing its importance. I was ignorant about it and listened to him like a child. I was impressed about his conviction. I wished I had atleast quarter of conviction that he had. What a pleasant site. After all this, he said ”Sir, my mother is dead”. I was shocked that he knew all this and spoke this way. I was speechless. ” I was told by the Doctor. I am sad but I dint cry. I loved her a lot. She understood me. I will come out of my feelings of worthlessness. I will try. I am going to write. I want to write. My mother wanted me to write. Sir, you want me to write. But I will write because I want to.” What a lesson to learn. “I will do it because I want to do it.” What a resiliency. In a matter of 3 days this man changed so much, He still had little negativity. But he was trying to come out. How important it is for us to keep trying.

Vivek was upset the next time when I visited him. He said” Sir, what bad words these patients speak. Language is so beautiful, why do they destroy it, with so much of filth?” He was disturbed.

After sometime he came and told me” Sir, I am not going to let these things affect me. I am going to write an article on ‘Film and Industry’ from a commerce perspective. I want to write”. After this he told something that moved me the most. He said ”There is a creation in all of us that compels us to rise above the destruction of our negativity”. I was dumb struck. How true from a man who was battling with his emotions. I was fortunate to learn this from him. I started getting a new perspective for my field work and my life.

We kept meeting and I kept learning. He wrote his article and showed it to me. It does not matter how it was. He conceived an idea and he did it. He was determined to do it. He kept saying ‘I will try’. He tried. That is the most important thing.

He kept telling me how he made himself happy. He spoke of his experiments with diet and how happy he was. He said he wanted to write short stories for children. He said” Telling the right story to the child prepares the child for the story called ‘Life.’ He said at times ”I feel bad but I have a lot of things to feel good about. I choose to be happy”. I felt ashamed of myself. I have so many things to be happy about but I choose to complain. Everything is about choices.

‘In this life we have more pain than pleasure. Pain is pleasurable’. This is what he said. It made so much of sense. Then he smilingly asked ‘Sir, hope I am not boring you?’ We both laughed together. ‘I am very happy talking to you. Because of you I started writing and made, myself happy. Thank you’. This is what he told me. He could tell me this so easily. He taught me so much but I could not tell him. Why? I still need to learn from him. My teacher.

Next day he again spoke to me about his experiments with diets. He told me ”Sir, it is a great feeling to be married. What a feeling when my child would call me ‘Papa’. Why dint I marry? But it’s OK. I am happy. I still can marry with a widow or someone. But chances are remote. I was in love with a girl in my eighth standard. She was very intelligent. She looked very cute in her frock. I respected her but she never knew about my feelings. Wish I could tell her. If I would tell her, I would be happy and may be I would not have had schizophrenia. But it’s OK. If I had a physical illness I would take treatment, so I took treatment during my productive years of my life. Its OK. It was for my good. Still nothing is lost. I can still do a lot of things. I am just 51. I have more to do”. What an attitude ? He told me ‘Sir, my eyes can be taken, my hands can be taken, but nobody can take away my attitude’. I was awestruck. Was I counselling or was I learning ?

I told him to write and he made himself worth writing about. I am still learning from a man who does not know he is teaching me? Sometimes God helps you to give without you realising how much you are about to get.

#This was written on 21st January 2005, as part of my report to my Institute Karve Institute of Social Service

Advertisements

Main Aisa Kyu Hoon, Mai Jaisa Hoon, Mai Vaisa Kyu Hoon?

Romans 7:15-25

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Message

As an intern Psychiatric social worker (yes, I am cool you see), I was assigned a Halfway Home called Chaitanya for the mentally ill. Every morning I had to start a session where basic skills like combing hair, brushing teeth, how to shave, buttoning up shirt, saying good morning was instilled. Due to the mental illness, their basic skills broke down and Halfway home is a place that tries to integrate people with mental illness into the society where they can live their lives in the best possible way. So one day after the routine after saying bye, when I was about to leave, Mr Vivek, one of the inmates, met me at the door. He said “Sir, I appreciate your inputs on a daily basis. It is very helpful. But you are a man of double standards.” I looked at him with disbelief and my mouth wide open could have swallowed an elephant. He continued “You tell us to be hygienic by shaving, but look at your ugly beard and you tell that we should always be pleasant and greet each other. But when we come for lunch you never greet us and you always look sad and unpleasant. You should smile and moreover practice what you preach.”

The above incident punctured my ego beyond recognition and also reminds us what Paul so wonderfully says. We have set of ideals that we preach, believe and want to live by, but keep failing. I have lived with my inner struggles all my life. Some struggles keep nagging me.

I have asked myself about my personal life and the civil wars going on in me seems to be raging every day. I have come up with the following observations about it. I do want to be more spiritual. Honest, I am a priest. I am supposed to be a spiritual leader. I do want to pray and have a closer walk with God. I want to have a deeper interior life with God. When I wake up in the morning, I want to be able to sit down and pray, read the Bible. When I go about my meditations, I want to concentrate on my prayers and not have so many random thoughts that come wiggling in between my sentences of prayers. What do I do? I want to lead my worship with utmost sincerity without bothering about my voice and presentation. But my thoughts are distracted and my focus is on myself than on God.  I do put a lot of effort into my sermon, but it is more to please people than to deliver the powerful word of God. I want to do what is right. I actually demand my youths and parish members to pray and read the bible daily. But do I do it? That which I want to do, I confess to you, I don’t do.

Throughout my life, I have wanted to live a simpler life style, as a means of identifying with the poor and the oppressed of the world. To have compassion on people who are poor and deprived. But when I see them that compassion evaporates and I have devised new justifications to hold on to my “hard earned money”.  And I find myself accumulating more books and goodies around the house. And my practice of giving is far from being consistent. It fluctuates according to my whims.  I want to do what I perceive to be right, to do what I perceive is God’s will for our lives, but do I do it? No. What is wrong with me?

I want to live a life not ruled by gadgets and social media. But the opposite is true. I always need a phone to fidget with. Either the laptop or my mobile is always a necessity. I need to message someone on Whatsapp or keep updating inane nonsense on Facebook. And also I lecture on how these things are ruining our lives and therefore one should regulate the use. But is that what I do? No, not at all. Even though I know it is wrong I keep indulging.

Jimmie Carter, when he was President of the United States and also the most famous Bible teacher in the Baptist church, made the front page of TIME magazine by confessing he still had feelings of lust, even though happily married. He didn’t want to have such feelings. Neither do I, as I believe one should not objectify women. But I nonetheless do have feelings of lust. What do I do?

So I come to the conclusion that I am not a worthy person.  I must not be a very good Christian. Worse still I am a horrible priest. I must be a weak Christian. I must be a compromising Christian. I must be a sinful, imperfect Christian. What is wrong with me? Why are there so many contradictions living inside me. What kind of a man is this that lives inside of me? These are the ramblings of my mind.

We all know that the man who wrote Romans 7 was the Apostle Paul. Here he was at the very high point of his life. Fifty-five to sixty-five years old; a mature Christian; he had been a Christian for some twenty to twenty-five years. Here was the Apostle Paul who prayed fervently, who worked mighty miracles, who wrote numerous letters to the churches. Here was Paul who spoke courageously before governments, kings, and rulers. Here was Paul who was tossed into prison, beaten and stoned. Here was Paul, the most mature person of the Christ-centered life, at the high point of his Christian journey.  In contemporary scenario it would be like Lionel Messi, the winner of 5th Ballon d’Or saying “I do not know how to play football. I am learning to play it. Similarly Paul says, “I don’t get it. I do the things that I hate. And the very things that I want to do, I don’t do. That which I don’t want to do, I do. What is wrong with me? What a wretched person?”

And then it begins to dawn on us that one of the marks of a mature Christian is the awareness of this struggle with evil in our lives. To be  honest about this civil war within us shows our confidence in our living relation with our Lord. It is to struggle with evil until our day of dying. We all struggle. We all say to ourselves, “O wretched person that I am.”

So is Paul giving us an excuse to live a wayward life? We see that the very depressing chapter 7 ends with “Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord..” (vs 25a). What does that mean? The Chapter 7 makes us ready for the glorious promises of Chapter 8. Let us see what it is

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:15-17)

Paul reminds us of our identity as Children of God. It is the Holy Spirit that has brought us to adoption and calls us into a relation with our God where we call him, “Abba Father”. We are like the prodigal son who keeps leaving the Home of the father and the communion. But Spirit helps us to confess and come to our senses and return to our Lord who reaches out with outstretched arms to receive us. Paul reminds us our thirst for Grace.

I remember a time when I was struggling to make a decision to go for ministry. Many people knew I had dedicated my life for ordained ministry and here suddenly I was backtracking. I must admit I had lost my focus; I questioned my capability and my commitment and was very confused. The struggle was very harrowing and my reservations for ordained ministry had become very vocal. Some of it was a defense mechanism to wriggle out of the situation. This created a lot of tension in my life. But I must highlight the role of my parents who were very disappointed at my wavering decisions. But in spite of that I can’t forget the confrontation with my parents which I thought would be very ugly. But my dad always surprised me and still surprises me. He precisely said these words when I was feeling the worst about myself, “Mon, we are proud that you are our son. We see that you are struggling. We are with you in whatever decision you make. We wish you take the right decision. We love you and as parents we will support you the best that we can.” Tears still well up when I remember those words. In the scorching heat of loneliness the word “Mon (malayalam for son)” was like the waters of the streams that gushed into my soul. I am sure God is daily calling us “Mon/Mol” when He sees our endless struggle. He promises us that His grace will fill the vacuum of our hearts. Like the Samaritan woman who wanted to know which mountain to scale in her effort to please God. Jesus reminded her, “Lady, forget about the mountain and concentrate on the fountain that is available inside you through the Spirit.”

Baptism affirms our identity as Daughters and Sons of God and at Holy Communion, Christ calls us to His table as a loving mother calls her children to have food at the dinner table. In Mar Thoma Liturgy the procession for Holy Communion starts with liturgical song “Daiva Suthar Naam Aai Iduvan, Jeevikal aayi nadanapol…”. The song is a call for all the confused and burdened people who were condemned to beastly (jeevikal) living because of our struggle with sin. But Christ has called us as his children (Daiva Suthar), where he offers His body and blood to nourish our parched souls.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church,

Kolar Road, Bhopal

 

.

romans7-15

Baptism Reloaded: Listening to God’s Original Love Song

Matthew 3: 13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Message:

Early Church pictured Jesus going down or dipping in the River Jordan, and as he comes out of the water the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove and the voice speaks from Heaven: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17).Reflecting on this, they soon began to make connections with the Creation story which involved Water and spirit. At the beginning of creation, Genesis tells us, there was watery chaos. And over the watery chaos, Holy Spirit was hovering. There is watery chaos, there is wind of God’s spirit. Out of the watery chaos comes the world. And God says ‘This is good.’ This is how St Paul connected Baptism of Jesus to the Creation account and therefore gave the apt title to Christian life as New Creation. So the beginning of Christian life is a new beginning of God’s New Creative work. Just as Jesus came out of the water, receiving the the Spirit and hearing the voice of the Father, so for the newly baptized Christian the voice of God gives a new identity saying “This is my son/daughter, whom I love; with her/him I am well pleased.”

There is a tribe in Sierra Leone  called the Himba Tribe where the birth date of a child is counted not from when they were born, nor from when they are conceived but from the day that the child was a thought in its mother’s mind.And when a woman decides that she will have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child that wants to come. And after she’s heard the song of this child, she comes back to the man who will be the child’s father, and teaches it to him.And then, when they make love to physically conceive the child, some of that time they sing the song of the child, as a way to invite it. And then, when the mother is pregnant, the mother teaches that child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people around her sing the child’s song to welcome it. And then, as the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or hurts its knee,someone picks it up and sings its song to it. Or perhaps the child does something wonderful, or goes through the rites of puberty, then as a way of honoring this person, the people of the village sing his or her song. In this African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them.
The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity. When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything to prove yourself or usurp what is not yours.

God is singing the original song at our Baptism where he says “You are my beloved son/daughter.” That is our identity and we should often be reminded of the original song.

What is the significance of Jesus’ Baptism. Jesus restores the creation to its purpose of ‘It is good’. When Jesus who restored humanity to the Original love song of God, entered into the river Jordan, symbolizing entry into the chaos of the human world. Jesus entered into our level, where things are broken, shapeless and meaningless, in a state of vulnerability and risk, to give birth to a New Creation of humanity. So when we share in the baptism of Jesus, it is not going to be a life that is going to be successful and in control of things, but it is going to be a life that reaches out from the pain of brokenness and loneliness (chaos), to be touched by the hand of God. So where do we find the Baptized? In the midst of brokenness, pain, death, illness, risk, in short “in the neighbourhood of chaos.”Being baptized means to be lead to where Jesus is. Therefore baptism means being led to the chaos and neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its identity and destiny. But more so, Baptism touches the depths of not just outside chaos, but also the chaos of her or his own life. Because the chaos is not just outside but also there is a lot of inhumanity and muddle inside us. A baptized person should have the honesty and courage to look at the chaos inside and should combat the chaos outside. If this is so, baptism does not confer on us a status that makes us special or a claim of privilege. It is a claim a new level of soladiruty with other people through Christ. Therefore Baptism never is a convocation or graduation ceremony for the privileged elite, but it is an entry into the messy, needy, contaminated world with Jesus. When Jesus rose from the water, it symbolizes that, through the resurrection of Christ, we will also overcome the forces of death and destruction. Baptism opens us to the chaos of the world and at the same time it opens us to the Holy Spirit. Baptism opens up to the brokenness and pain of the world and also gives us the joy of communion, with the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. It helps us listen to the voice of God, constantly reminding our identity as His beloved.

Now we have wasted a lot of energy, debating the validity of infant baptism and adult baptism. We have turned baptism into a validity contest of who is right and who has the entry visa to Paradise. That is how we completely miss the point. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:3-4) It calls for a complete identification with Jesus. . Church identifies Jesus to have lived a threefold identity: the prophet, priest and king. Baptism calls us to live a life identifying with these 3 roles. We do not see ourselves in such a perspective. Let us analyse these 3 roles

  1. Prophet: We have reduced a prophet to just foretelling the future. But biblically if we analyze, the role of a prophet is to challenge the community to be what it is meant to be. So the baptized person, reflecting the prop[hetic role of Jesus Christ is a person who needs to be critical, a questioner. A person who asks, “Have you forgetten what you are here for?” “Have you forgotten the gift God gave you?” Prophetic role reminds us that we are God’s beloved and therefore questions the human practices in the wake of our identity. Prophetic role is a risky role as we pose uncomfortable questions to ourselves and to people around us, commiting ourselves to the identity that God has given us. We hold each other accountable to our faith and action. Prophetic role is not just about having a private life of faith, but a faith that overflows to combat injustice, discrimination and suffering. Let us remember our prophetic role.
  2. Priest: The role of a priest in Old Testament is one who interprets God and humanity to each other. Priest was seen as somebody who builds bridges between God and humanity when that relationship has been wrecked; somebody who by offering sacrifice to God recreates a shattered relationship. This is the priestly role Jesus espoused and we can try to identify with that role of being peacemakers and bridge builders. We offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:2). In a world characterized by brokenness and estrangement, Baptism calls us to the priestly role of building bridges between communities, races and people from different hues
  3. King: King is a one who had the freedom and power to shape the law and justice of society. King is a one who had the power to bring to fruition what he wishes to see. While prophets are those who break dividing walls and dismantle new structures, kingly role calls to build alternative structures. Kingly role calls us to shape our lives and human environment in accordance with the justice of God. We are part takers of the freedom and liberty that God gives us to make the world a better place.

So Baptism is not just a vain speculation of whose Baptism is valid, but it initiates us to a life of playing the role of Prophet, Priest and King. We live in times of mediocre faith that makes us feel that one must just tag along. Baptism is just seen as a societal necessity. There is a theory called Pygmalion effect. In the Greek mythology Pygmalion is a sculptor from the city of Crete. His statues were very popular and he was deeply admired. There were many girls who wished to marry him but he refused to do so. One day he sculpted a beautiful woman. It is said he fell in love with this statue. He kept telling the people of the city that the statue of the woman is his wife. People thought he had lost it to call a statue a stone, as his wife. It is said that his constant love and affection on the statue gave breath to the sculpture and the lifeless body came to life. Pygmallion effect says that any person ordinary, if endowed with expectation, love and responsibility can rise up perform beyond expectation. Through baptism, ordinary humans like us are endowed the love and expectation of our Lord to rise up to live the divine-human life of discipleship consisting of the roles of Prophet, Priest and King.

Rev Merin Mathew

Bethel Mar Thoma Church

Kolar Road, Bhopal

Ps: This article is adapted from Archbishop Rowan Williams’ book ‘Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, PrayerBaptism 2

 

 

 

 

 

Eucharist Reloaded: Meditation Before Receiving Holy Communion

Luke 22: 14-23
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
Message
As a person who celebrates the communion, I retrospect to look at how casually I celebrate the Holy Communion or Eucharist or how casually people receive the Eucharist. We have become numb to the great privilege it is to be invited to the Lord’s table and to be partakers of his meal. We live in a world that highlights the absence in our lives which becomes our voice. We say “I do not have this…, I lack— quality,…Only if I had this job…., Only if my partner had—-quality,…..I do not have —Model Car,…. Wish I had better friends who understood me.” In the matrix of the “Absence” of our lives, Holy Communion reminds us the Presence of Christ. Let us see through this text the few dimensions of Holy Communion so that we participate meaningfully and prayerfully.
“I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. “ (Vs 15) Christ eagerly waits to have this fellowship with you and me. It is his desire where he has invited you to the table. That is the call that brings us to the table where Christ extends his hospitality and love. Christ calls us very passionately. He has taken the initiative. In the time of Jesus, to invite a person to your table means you find him worthy. Therefore it was a scandal when Jesus dined with Lepers, tax-colectors, prostitutes and the rejects. While Jesus calls us to the table, let us remember we are a community that is there not because of fulfilling some criteria of righteousness or qualification, but that in his invitation he qualifies us as his Sons and Daughters, a community around the table. He is the host.
Now while saying this that Jesus is the host, there is a paradoxical part in it. He is also the guest. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3: 20) While Christ invites us to the table, he also waits to be invited to your house (lives). In the story of Zacchaeus, when he was far and distant on a Sycamore tree, satisfied with a glimpse of Jesus, time freezes. It is not that He sees Jesus. He is shocked to know that Jesus is seeing him. Archbishop Rowan Williams says that Jesus looks at him and says “Zacchaeus are you not inviting me to your home?” And we know what a dramatic effect it had on Zacchaeus once Jesus came to His home. When I was studying in the seminary, final year, I had a habit of keeping my room in a mess. With assignments piling, my room just had madness written all over. And at the height of the piling of mess, without any notice my parents arrive at the Seminary. Normally there is a guest room where we entertain our relatives, so I did not bother to set my room in order. While talking to my parents in the guest room, my mother said “ I want to see your room.” I had an earthquake in my heart and shuddered. I gave her a reason that no one is allowed in the rooms and my mother had to comply by rules. My mother went straight to the Hostel Secretary, who was my friend, Brijith. My mom asked “I want to see Merin’s room”. I prayed to Triune God that he says no. But this Brutus said “Parents are allowed to go to rooms” I did not know where to hide or what to do. So like a lamb about to be slaughtered I was led to my room and my meticulous parents had a heart attack seeing the room. My mother in her characteristic way said “Seminary vannitum nee nanaayi illelo da (You did not improve coming to seminary)”. My poor mother in her enthusiasm set the room straight in a matter of 10 minutes. Jesus also asks us “Are you not inviting me into your lives?” We are afraid to expose the mess we have got ourselves in. But Eucharist reminds us that he is eager to come and set straight the mess that only he can get us out of. Jesus is knocking… Will you open up?
But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. (Luke 22: 21-23)
Jesus said that betrayer is with him at the table. Interestingly disciples question which of them it would be. It is not important who would betray. The point is that all of them had the potential to betray. At the table let us remind ourselves that “I too have the potential to be the ‘One who betrays’” Instead of asking who will it be, Richard Rohr says that Jesus makes us realize that I have potential for evil rather than pointing fingers at the other and making a scapegoat. So it is a time of repentance saying “Lord, I am capable of betraying you. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As once the famous Catholic Priest Henri Nouwen was giving invitation to the congregation people were expecting him to say “Only Catholics are allowed to receive the communion.” But he shocked the people by saying “Only sinners are allowed to receive the communion.” Dear friends “Only sinners are allowed…”
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22: 19-20)
Here Jesus is looking towards the experience of cross by connecting it to the broken bread and wine poured out as his body and blood which are about to be broken. He is saying “This is the definitive sign of God’s welcome and God’s mercy.” Instead of this being the ultimate tragedy, it is an open door into the glorious welcome of the father. It is the commemoration of the death of Christ in affirmation of his resurrection. Eucharist points us forward to the mystery of both the cross and resurrection. Jesus looking most clearly and vividly to his death on the cross, He gives thanks. Jesus giving thanks at the moment before breaking and spilling, before the wounds and blood, it is as if he is connecting the darkest places of human experience with God the Giver. He is saying that even in these dark places God continues to give. The disciples later on made the connection as the earliest name for Holy Communion is Eucharist which comes from the Greek word “Eucharistia” which means thanksgiving. So Holy Communion is a time when we meet to give thanks, even in the heart of the darkest experience. When we make the connection of all gifts to God the Giver, we are filled with thanksgiving, and the absence in our heart recedes to the over powering presence of Christ and we realize that He is enough. Aatami Kuortti, a Lutheran pastor in Russia, was sentenced to ten years of hard labor in a concentration camp because of his refusal to become a spy for the government. A very large proportion of the prisoners were Christians, whose only offense was their Christian faith. One of the Finnish believers received a package from home, a little bread and a few apples. The first thing he thought of was that it would be possible now to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. He proposed this to Pastor Kuortti. The pastor thought it impossible. “The guards would certainly interfere.” “But it is all arranged,” said Kajada. “I have already crushed the apple juice in a mug and the crusts will serve as communion bread. We can have the holy ordinance in the corner where my brother and I have our place, and the Russians if they see us will think we are drinking tea.” “I gladly fell in with the proposal of the brethren. After repetition of Scripture, I blessed the bread and the mug of apple juice, and we ate the Lord’s Holy Communion. The altar was but a dirty plank, and the pastor, as well as his flock, was in rags, yet we realized the presence of Christ.
For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Vs 16-18)
Jesus is saying to his disciples here that he will not  eat and drink again until the kingdom of God comes. Jesus when he is inviting to this fellowship of the table also is pointing us to a beyond. The Great Banquet of eternity and kingdom of God. While Holy Communion is an exercise in giving meaning to our lives in the world, but Jesus also points us to a beyond that his resurrection brings us. It is the hope that only He can give. In my 8th standard, I had the dreaded Jaundice. My parents took the Ayurveda route for my treatment. The diet was very strict with no salt and no non-veg food. One day, I became very adamant and said I want to have chicken and fish. My mother in tears in her eyes said “Once you are well, I will prepare a grand meal, where you can have what you want. But till then Papa and I will not have any non-veg food. We will have it only with you once all the effects of Jaundice is over.” Christ is eagerly waiting for us in the rooms that he has gone to prepare, waiting to have a grand banquet. We live in that hope.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal
Eucharist