Triangular Exchange

Image: brocade stoles from religious apparel.com

My school does four Eucharists a year, full-on, high Episcopal liturgies.  The first usually falls during one of the opening weeks of school, slightly terrifying the people who’ve never encountered vestments, discussion of eating body and blood, and gold-plated Gospel books before.  Episcopal full plunge.

As the various service participants line up in albs and stoles, I always am highly aware that I am the one that doesn’t look like the others—that is, I am in alb only, what a priest I know calls “liturgical underwear.”  Once a lower school student told me I’d forgotten my scarf.

The clergy and fellow chaplains at my school are very supportive of my lay chaplaincy.  After all, I can technically do anything an ordained person can do, with the exception of absolving sins, blessing things, and consecrating Eucharist. There’s not much call for absolving sins in school chaplaincy, but we do bless anything that sits still long enough, and some things that don’t (like puppies.)  I admit to blessing people and animals without a license, with the tacit and direct support of my colleagues.

But consecrating Eucharist is another story.  This is, after all, the point of a tradition with apostolic succession—only some people can have the “magic hands.”  A Lutheran friend of mine, a man whose approach to worship is quirky and deeply thoughtful, argued to me forcefully a few years back that everyone should be able to consecrate.  Even as I agreed with him in theory, it offended me in practice.  As much as I don’t like feeling like an outsider, or even kind of unwashed, I cling to the familiar within my tradition.

As a handful of students knelt to receive the chalice I offered them as a part of Communion, I was struck again how lovely it is to participate in a ritual like this with my students, and how honored I am to—literally—serve them.  We adults do a lot of talking about how Chapel is a time and place set apart for us to be together in community in a different way.  Mostly that’s in our explanations of why kids have to come even when they don’t want to.  But here, with the explicit inclusion of God in the relationship between us, it did change the experience.

I don’t profess to know what exactly I offered to those members of my community (it is the Pascal mystery, after all) but what I had was the experience of offering something in spirit of a Greater generosity and hospitality, and having that received from my hands.  It was holy, and humbling.  The magic was in the triangular exchange; it didn’t have to be in my hands themselves.

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