The Mystical Communion – The Rev. Michelle Meech
November 07, 2021
I am what many people in the church call, a mystic. In the dictionary, this is defined as a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with God, or who believes in the spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect. So, I am a seeker – someone who is on a perpetual journey to know the depth and breadth of God. Even when I was a small child, I knew God and felt connected to God but I could never find a spiritual home in any religious place. So, before I landed in the Episcopal Church in my 30’s, I was among those who defined themselves as spiritual but not religious.
Upon finding my home in Christianity, upon coming to learn more deeply about Jesus, in addition to my mysticism, I have found a very practical side of my faith too – feed the hungry, clothe the poor, house the homeless… without asking why or how they got there. Just feed them. Just clothe them. Just house them. Period. Why? It’s what Jesus would have me do and I am his disciple. It’s not always easy but then, opening our heart is a lifetime’s work.
This mystical side and this practical side, I have discovered, belong together. Because it’s the mystic in me that believes there is something beyond the ordinary. Something beyond the things we see, beyond the things we think we know, beyond what can be measured or proven. The mystic in me knows that God is beyond our intellect and, therefore, beyond my own ideas of right and wrong, my own belief about what is possible or probable. Beyond my own judgment, my own reasoning.
On my best days, I am able to be more present to these possibilities. My best days, when I have a few moments to myself so I can connect my head and my heart and begin again, each day being new. Because it’s always when I think I know exactly what is supposed to happen, that I get into trouble and lose track of God’s presence. And I lose my connection with other people.
In other words, it’s when I lose track of the mystic part of myself, the part that listens for God and becomes curious about what might be possible. The part of me that actually believes in something beyond my own limited self and my own set of predictions and judgments about other people.
I know we like to think of science as a place where facts reside. But science itself grows everyday as new discoveries about the nature of our universe are made. What made no sense to science only 20 years ago is now something that science takes for fact. It’s not that I dispute science or distrust it at all. On the contrary, I think science is just as much a venture in trying to comprehend the mystery of God as much of religion is. There are seekers of truth in both realms, after all. But there are also people who get stuck in a set of beliefs in both realms too.
Belief can be a tricky word. Especially these days when there is so much conjecture and opinion disguising itself as fact. The big question is, when we are deciding what to believe, are we only looking for ways to affirm our own viewpoint? Or, are we willing to believe something astonishing? Are we willing to be that vulnerable?
This story from John’s Gospel today is one of those stories about belief. The heart of the story is not that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The heart of the story is Jesus’ admonition of Martha: “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
Are we willing to see the glory of God? Are we willing to be astonished?
This story is so powerful because it depicts the jumble of human emotion when we come face to face with the mystery. The resentment of Mary. The weeping of the Jews. The anger of the onlookers. The pragmatic detachment of Martha. The sorrow of Jesus. All of it creating a swirl of grief and pain. A very human scene. But in the middle of this very human scene, something else is happening. Something beyond the ordinary. Something beyond what can be measured or proven.
Because this is a liminal moment – a place beyond time and space where the ordinary, day-to-day pattern of our lives comes to a sudden stop. We’ve all experienced them. It happens when someone is suddenly gone. And, therefore, something is gone from our lives. We experience a hole where there used to be life, an absence where there used to be presence.
We are finite creatures who rely on knowing what to expect and we desire to have some kind of order to what happens in our days and nights. We develop a set of beliefs in which we can become so stuck that we will not allow ourselves to see beyond them. We like to know where things are and we can find what we need and who we need when we need them. So to have all of this shift suddenly because a part of that order is gone, a piece of our lives has vanished, is something that brings great anxiety and deep pain.
And this is what’s happening in the Gospel story today. People stuck in their emotional responses – disappointment, resolve, anger, resentment, detachment. Yet… what Jesus is showing us is that this is also a space of possibility. It’s a liminal space. We still exist but a part of our existence just doesn’t make sense to us anymore. We are on a threshold over which we have yet to fully cross. And we come face to face with the mystery.
The mystery that can hold all possibilities, the belief and the unbelief, the emotions and tensions, good or bad, peaceful or difficult, supportive or destructive and everything in between. The mystery holds all of it as it has since before the beginning of time.
And that’s what it’s like this time of year for us in the northern hemisphere. The frost starts to descend. The leaves continue falling. The shadows grow longer. Some of the things that were alive are no longer and may not come back next year. The landscape is changing around us and we are on a threshold. A liminal space of possibility. A space of hope. A mystical space.
The mystery meets us wherever we are because the mystery is always there. Right there, beyond our ordinary, day-to-day patterns so that when they stop, when our world stops moving because a part of it is gone, a part of us is gone, we drop right into the holding of God’s love, the mystery that is always sustaining us right underneath the surface of our busy thoughts and emotions. The lifeforce that moves us from one minute to the next.
So many times people who have survived a death of a loved one or survived a trauma say, “I don’t know how I got through it.” Indeed. We don’t know how. We just know that we did. What was sustaining us through that?
And what we learn over time, hopefully, is that this mystery, this presence that exists underneath all of our thoughts and emotions… this presence is real and true and loving. And it’s closer to us than our own breath. And even when we doubt its existence, it’s still there. It will never leave us.
From Revelation: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”
God is not any further than our own breath. God’s home is here, the mercy seat that rests inside us is where God sits. Now and always.
The common life of a community of faith is called to witness this and, even in our doubt, act on its behalf. As Christians, we name this love, this presence: “Christ.” The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
Just as we are sustained by God, we are sustained by one another in our commitment to one another. Our commitment to one another – in all its forms – is our commitment to Christ – the real presence of God incarnate.
The one who teaches us to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. The one who heals the sick and proclaims good news to the poor.
The one who reconciles us to God by teaching us how to empty ourselves, how to move beyond ourselves and feed, clothe, and house people.
The one who meets us in the liminal spaces of our lives and holds everything for us until we are remade, opening our hearts, and coming back to life.
So our commitment matters. Because our commitment is what sustains all of us together.
I know that many of you will be re-committing today to St. John’s as you offer your financial pledge for 2022. And for those of you who are not quite ready to turn in your pledge form, no worries, the Stewardship Team will continue receiving them.
Stewardship is a spiritual practice because commitment matters. It is an act of hope in what can sometimes be a nightmarish world. It is an act of defiance in the face of the systems of oppression. It is an act of love on behalf of love itself.
Please come forward now, those of you who are ready to, and offer your financial pledge to our common life as the community of St. John’s.