From a conversation with Br. Jim Woodrum, SSJE
The Christian tradition speaks of icons as “windows into heaven.” For me, the Eucharist is an icon, a window into God. In the Eucharist Jesus is present to us in a mysterious way that we cannot describe or even fully comprehend. As we take into ourselves his body and blood, we receive him and are made one with him. We are encouraged to “feed on him in (our) hearts by faith with thanksgiving.”
I remember walking into an Episcopal church and participating in the Eucharist for the very first time, without any previous experience or frame of reference. It was such a powerful experience for me; it reminded me of the travelers to Emmaus who recognized Christ as he blessed and broke bread with them. I felt like my heart was “burning” within me. I don’t think I even knew the Emmaus story back then, but it illuminates so much for me now. When that bread is broken, Jesus becomes present to us. Heaven and earth come together, and we partake in that. It’s also why being in the presence of Christ in the Reserved Sacrament is so powerful for me. It is the presence of Jesus, with us here and now.
All of us want and need relationships; we hunger and thirst for meaningful connections with others. And yet, even with all our ways of communicating with each other, we often miss out on real connections. We see images on a screen and take in soundbites, but we’re not connecting with flesh and blood. Many people are hungry for that actual physical contact with others, real connections that allow us to give and receive wholeheartedly.
In the Eucharist, we come together, each with our individual needs and with our unique, personal relationship to God. No two of us are exactly alike. The Eucharist transcends those individual differences. We stand or kneel around the altar, extending our hands to receive the bread and the wine; each person receiving the same bread and the same wine as all the others. And yet in the Eucharist Christ also comes to each one of us, touches each of us, feeds and satisfies each of us, as we have need. Each of us will have our own experience, our own way of encountering Christ in these holy gifts, even as we are also joined as one in this sacrament. We become aware of ourselves as individual shards of differently colored glass that somehow fit together into a much larger picture of God. We learn to recognize God in each individual shard; each person known, accepted, and loved as part of the larger Body, which is the Church.
Encountering Christ in the Eucharist changes us. The founder of our community, Father Benson, taught that each Eucharist was like a brush stroke which added just a bit more to the likeness of Christ that was taking shape in us. Each time we receive him, we become more and more like him.